An Austrian daredevil achieved one of the most remarkable feats of modern human endeavour as he became the first man to break the sound barrier without mechanical help after a 24-mile-high skydive from the edge of space.
Felix Baumgartner, a former military parachutist, rose in a purpose-built capsule beneath an enormous helium balloon to a height of more than 128,000 feet -- almost four times the height of a cruising passenger airline.
After a salute to the millions watching around the world, Mr Baumgartner jumped headfirst from the capsule and plummeted toward earth, reaching a speed of 706mph, faster than the speed of sound, according to his spokesman.
The remarkable feat came exactly 65 years to the day after Chuck Yeager became the first man to break the sound barrier in an aeroplane and was one of three world records Mr Baumgartner set with his jump. He also smashed the records for the highest manned balloon flight and the highest skydive.
Minutes before his historic leap, broadcast around the world, the 43-year-old sat anxiously on the edge of his capsule, looking down at the Earth 24 miles below. As he was instructed to cut his oxygen supply and release his safety harness, mission control in Roswell, New Mexico, told Mr Baumgartner a "guardian angel was with him".
He addressed the world with a short speech ahead of his leap. The poor sound quality muffled his words, although he appeared to say: "Hello everyone . . . The whole world is watching now . . . I wish you could see what I can see . . . Sometimes you have to be really high up to realise how small you are."
He then added: "I'm going over" before dropping toward earth.
Infrared cameras captured him as he initially spun in the air before settling into a steady headfirst descent. Mr Baumgartner's family and friends, including his parents and girlfriend, who had travelled to New Mexico watch, cheered as it became clear he was safe.
As he fell, Mr Baumgartner complained that his visor was steaming up before he pulled his parachute cord. After two or three minutes, he appeared against the cloudless blue sky before steering to safety, landing nine minutes after jumping.
Despite his accomplishment, Mr Baumgartner looked almost nonchalant as he hit the ground running before settling into a stroll. Only once his parachute had fallen did he drop and punch the air in celebration.
His crew believe that Mr Baumgartner's speed meant that he became the first man to break the sound barrier unaided, but he also set two other world records.
The first came after two hours and two minutes when he broke the record for the highest manned balloon flight, beating Malcolm Ross and Victor Prather who soared to 113,740ft in 1961. Their record ended in tragedy when Prather drowned in the Gulf of Mexico upon landing.
Mr Baumgartner also broke the record for a freefall from the highest altitude. But it is thought he failed to achieve the longest freefall in time.
In 1960 Joe Kittinger, a former US Air Force colonel, broke both records. Mr Kittinger (84) was a key member of Mr Baumgartner's ground team during yesterday's attempt. (© Daily Telegraph, London)