Daredevil skydiver Felix Baumgartner has told of the moments of terror he underwent during his record-breaking jump from the edge of space on Sunday.
"There was a period of time where I really thought, 'I am in trouble'," the 43-year-old said after he successfully leapt into the stratosphere from a balloon hovering near the edge of space 24 miles above Earth, breaking three world records including the highest skydive ever.
"I was fighting all the way down to regain control because I wanted to break the speed of sound," he added, explaining that he almost hit a panic button to release a 'drogue' parachute to slow him down.
"And then I hit it," he smiled, clearly hugely relieved. "After a couple of seconds, I had that feeling I'm getting it under control. And I did. And that's why I broke the speed of sound."
Cheers broke out as Baumgartner jumped from a skateboard sized shelf outside the 11-by-8-foot fibreglass and acrylic capsule that was carried as high as 128,000 feet by an enormous balloon.
"We love you Felix!" screamed the crowd as he plunged through the stratosphere.
But the crowd knew nothing of the skydiver's problems. At one point a horizontal spin began that could have made him black out, or over-stressed the protective suit which, if torn, would have made his blood vaporise almost instantaneously.
"That spin became so violent it was hard to know how to get out of it," the new record-holder said.
"But I was able to get it under control and break the speed of sound."
After recovering from the spin no more problems arose, allowing the nerveless Austrian to enjoy the exhilaration of an incredible experience.
"On the step I felt that the whole world is watching. I said I wish they would see what I see," he said.
"It was amazing... I could feel myself break the speed of sound. I could feel the air building up and then I hit it."
One man was very happy to see Baumgartner succeed: Colonel Joseph Kittinger, whose held the previous record with a jump from 108,000ft during a US Air Force mission in 1960.
"I'd like to give the one-fingered salute to everyone who said he was going to break apart when he went supersonic," said Kittinger.
That's a sentiment shared by Baumgartner. "I want to inspire the next generation," he said. "I want to be in mission control with someone younger than me wanting to break my record."
Baumgartner's body pierced the atmosphere at speeds topping 700 miles per hour, appearing to achieve another of his goals: to become the first skydiver to break the speed of sound, according to the project website. He sped toward Earth on the 65th anniversary of legendary American pilot Chuck Yeager's flight shattering the sound barrier on October 14, 1947.
"Looks like he probably broke Mach," project commentator Bob Hager said, referring to Mach 1, more than 690 miles per hour, used to measure the speed of sound.
Baumgartner broke records for the highest altitude manned balloon flight and the highest altitude skydive before landing safely on the ground and raising his arms in a victory salute about 10 minutes after he stepped into the air.
As his teary-eyed mother, father and girlfriend watched on monitors miles below, Baumgartner prepared to jump from the pressurized capsule by going through a checklist of 40 items with project adviser Joe Kittinger, holder of a 19-mile high altitude parachute jump record that Baumgartner smashed.
Earlier in the flight, he expressed concern that his astronaut-like helmet was not heating properly.
"This is very serious, Joe," said Baumgartner as the capsule, designed to remain at 55 degrees Fahrenheit ascended in skies where temperatures were expected to plunge below -91.8 F (-67.8 C), according to the project's website. "Sometimes it's getting foggy when I exhale. ... I do not feel heat."
Baumgartner's ascent into the stratosphere took about 2 1/2 hours.
The 30 million-cubic-foot (850,000-cubic-metre) plastic balloon, is about one-tenth the thickness of a sandwich bag, or roughly as thin as a dry cleaner bag.