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Skydiver Burns Parachute in Crazy Safety Demo

A professional skydiver shoots her own parachute with a flare gun midflight, killing it with fire. Continue reading →

Pro skydiver Brianne Thompson calmly aimed a flare gun at her deployed parachute mid-fall and pulled the trigger. She also captured the flame-filled result on video.

No, this isn't some suicidal stunt. She's trying to save lives by demonstrating the absolute necessity for a backup parachute to her skydiving students, Outside Magazine reported. In addition to being a medal-winning pro, Thompson is a lead coach at the Axis Flight School in Arizona. Watch her wild YouTube video here.

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Thompson's prowess in the sky has landed her in the news before. Last summer she and fellow Axis Flight School lead coach Niklas Daniel beat the heat by skydiving 5,000 feet straight into a Slip ‘N Slide. Want to see what other wild things these two instructors can do in the air? Here's a fuller video. (Hat tip to BGR.)

Daniel set his own parachute on fire in mid-fall back in 2011, and that shakier footage caused me to gasp even though I knew he had a backup.

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YouTube is good at recommending related skydiving clips that are seriously petrifying. Uh, clearly skydivers should always have a backup chute. But Earth-bound viewers who watch enough of these death-defying videos might need a backup pair of pants.

Later this month, the country's top wingsuit flyers will soar above spectators in Rochelle, Ill., competing in teams of three to win a filmed acrobatic competition, and then individually to see who can go farther, fastest and longest in the U.S. Parachute Association (USPA) National Wingsuit Flying Championships. Earlier this year, the first Wingsuit World Cup premiered in England in May. Both competitions are using rules adopted by the World Air Sports Federation that "it took three years for the leaders of the sport to agree on," said James Hayhurst, Director of Competition for the USPA. In its brief history (the modern wingsuit dates back just to the late 1990s), wingsuit flying has been a fairly independent pursuit. While it's impossible to say exactly how competition will change the sport, sports psychologists have some ideas, based on previous research of extreme sports.

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Competition adds an element of traditional sports to the world of extreme sports, a world in which athletes participate for much different reasons, say sports psychologists who study such sports. Susan Houge Mackenzie, who studies motives for participation in extreme sports as an Assistant Professor in the Recreation, Parks, & Tourism department at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, says that common reasons for pursuing such sports are personal goal achievements, escaping boredom, pushing personal boundaries social, connecting to the natural environment, and feeling free -- more complex, in other words, than the popular conception of the "adrenaline rush." "One of the benefits of extreme sports is that they don't have the characteristics of traditional sports," said Eric Brymer, a psychologist with a particular interest in the psychological health benefits of nature-based experiences. "It would be a real shame if the character of extreme adventure sports changed because they became heavily competitive in the traditional sporting way." He also worries that people may act more aggressively in an already risky situation. "The decision-making process may be altered (in competition)," he said. An athlete may think, "Well, if I were a little faster or closer I may be closer to winning -- and the the experience itself changes."

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On the other hand, Houge Mackenzie says she would expect the opposite to happen: "In competition people are more likely to be conservative," she said. "You're not going to try a new trick or something" because of the possibility of failing. And, people who enter a competition are likely to be those who are very well prepared and experienced. In an ongoing study, Brymer said that a student has found similarities between traditional and extreme athletes in preparing for competition. Both use visualization techniques and imagery to ready themselves for the stage. The difference? "In traditional sports, you're visualizing what you have to do in order to win," he said, while in extreme sports you're also visualizing how to "make sure the worst case scenario doesn't happen."

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It's hard to quantify exactly how dangerous wingsuit flying is, but Dr. Omer Mei-Den, assistant professor of orthopedics at the University of Colorado, pointed out in a 2012 study that 72 percent of BASE jumpers, or soaring after leaping from a fixed object, had witnessed death or serious injury, and 76 percent had had at least one "near miss." He estimated an athlete would have one severe injury per 500 or so jumps. The potential for increased risk is dependent on how the competition is set up, Brymer added. In the type of wingsuit flying that’s debuting at the Chicago competition, fliers jump out of airplanes and stay far away from structures, generally regarded as safer than jumping from a fixed object.

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Hayhurst says the USPA screens competitors, only allowing those with a certain level of skill, experience, and emergency preparedness training -- to register. The competitions also attract some participants away from the sport's much more dangerous cousin, Hayhurst said: terrain flying, in which athletes wearing wingsuits jump off of mountains and fly close to structures. People who do proximity flying generally don't stay in it for long: careers average about six years, "after which it is generally curtailed by death, injury or prudence," according to Newsweek. Spectators, of course, can watch from the safety of the ground.

Shown - a competitor in the 3rd Red Bull WWL China Grand Prix on Tianmen Mountain in Zhangjiajie city, central China's Hunan province, Oct. 19, 2014.