Enter 'the devil's house': Sebastián Álvarez flies inside an active volcano
In a challenge that redefines the limits of wingsuit flying, see Sebastián Álvarez fly in and out of Villarrica, one of Chile's most famous volcanos.
The aim was to show the beauty of Chile and to push the limits of the flare manoeuvre, a key component in the discipline of wingsuit flying. These were the key goals that Sebastián 'Ardilla' Álvarez had in mind when the unthinkable started to become plausible. Could he really fly into the crater of a volcano and then fly back out again? It was something that had never been tried before.
However, it couldn’t be just any volcano: the crater had to have a specific diameter that allowed the manoeuvre to be physically possible. It also had to be a volcano surrounded by the incomparable beauty of southern Chile – because Álvarez is always looking for ways to show off his country. Villarrica seemed the perfect candidate.
The first step was to calculate if it was even possible to fly in and out of the crater in a wingsuit (if the numbers didn’t add up, there was a chance of colliding against the mountain wall or not being able to fly back up). Luckily, the numbers stacked up. Theoretically, at least, it was possible.
The process took time. Álvarez gradually got to know the volcano – its rhythms, the intensity of the smoke columns, the smell of the sulphur, the wind speed, the weather, the air space and so much more.
We're talking about the most active volcano in Chile, with frequent eruptions, so it added an element of unpredictability. A "life of its own", as Álvarez puts it. Some days it was more active and, on occasion, you could feel the turbulence. There was uncertainty, so Álvarez took things slowly and patiently. He analysed the weather for months, only taking on the challenge when he felt the volcano had granted him permission. "At last, there was harmony," he recalls.
While the helicopter was getting in position, Álvarez had three things in mind: his suit, his axis [the flight direction] and the speed. “Everything is in order,” he thought. He just had to jump.
Around 40 seconds went by from jumping from the helicopter to arriving inside the crater. Álvarez's focus was absolute. There was nothing else in his mind besides getting in and out of the crater and finishing the flight successfully.
The whole flight took three minutes. Those who were there described the moment they saw Álvarez flying his way back out of the volcano as “mind-blowing”.
All about 'Ardilla'
Sebastián 'Ardilla' Álvarez ('ardilla' is the Spanish word for squirrel) is a disciplined man, methodical and creative. He's someone who's always pushing the limits of what's possible in skydiving. He started his career with the Chilean Air Force to make his dream of flying come true. After that, he went deeper into wingsuit flying, where his main goal has been to push the sport's boundaries through his own innovative projects.
It's a sport where any mistake can have serious consequences, and Ardilla is known by his closest friends as someone who doesn't make mistakes. He studies and analyses each project obsessively to control every detail. Each adventure has a big margin of error built in, because he doesn't believe in taking unnecessary risks. He has learned to use fear to his advantage. "Fear is a very positive thing. I welcome it, because it makes me feel super-active and 100 percent focused. Nevertheless, you must manage the fine line between fear and panic," he explains.
Fear is a very positive thing, I welcome it
His fellow flyers see him as a pioneer who surprises them with his ideas and achievements, as someone who embodies the concept of 'healthy craziness' – meaning he takes on projects that seem impossible, but always from a rational point of view.
“Sebastián is someone who craves adventure, he doesn’t settle for what everybody else is doing. He’s always trying to give another twist to the sport and push it higher”, explains Dani Román, a fellow wingsuit-flying specialist who helped to film the project from alongside Álvarez.
Sebastián is someone who craves adventure, he doesn’t settle for what everybody else is doing. He’s always trying to give another twist to the sport
"The volcano gave me a terrifying sensation," Álvarez recalls, remembering the moment immediately prior to heading into the crater. "The Mapuche [a group of indigenous inhabitants of present-day south-central Chile and south-western Argentina, including parts of Patagonia] call the volcano 'Ruka Pillañ', which means 'the house of the devil'. I felt like I was going straight to hell, and at the same time, I wanted to experience it and fly out," he explains.
Something that shocked Álvarez was looking at the south-east face of the volcano, which seemed terrifying because it’s so different to the pictures we're used to seeing of Villarrica.
There was nothing else in his mind besides the calculations he'd made to be able to get out of the crater and finish the flight successfully. “The feeling of going into 'the devil’s house' was one of the scariest, most dangerous and weirdest things I’ve experienced. I had to talk with the volcano first because it does what it wants, and if I made a mistake, I could’ve stayed there,” Álvarez recalls.
Going into the devil’s house was one of the scariest things I’ve experienced
Watch the volcano flight from Álvarez's point of view
Sebastián Álvarez's volcano flight – POV footage
See firsthand how wingsuit pilot Sebastián Álvarez flew in and out of an active volcano in Chile.