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Flying for charity in Zhaotong, Yunnan

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Most people have absolutely no desire to strap on a thin canvas suit and jump off of a sheer mountain cliff. However, when daredevils do pursue this pastime, the images are compelling. The stunning vistas of northeast Yunnan's Zhaotong Prefecture are currently providing the backdrop for dozens of professional thrill-seekers participating in a charity 'wingsuit' flying contest.

Three dozen competitors from twelve countries are competing at the fourth annual Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association of China air show. The event, entitled 'Wings for Love World Cup 2015' is being held from November 1 through 7 inside the Dashanbao National Nature Reserve (大山包国家级自然保护区).

Entrants to the competition perform as part of multi-person teams in a flight video contest. The performers hop off a purpose-built platform perched 2,800 meters above the valley below. They are quickly followed by another flier, armed with a high definition camera, who films the jumpers' aerial acrobatics and skills for judges seated safely on the ground.

Wingsuit competitions have grown more and more common worldwide over the past decade, spurred by popular online videos and a drop in the price of required equipment. The event in Zhaotong is the first of its kind held in Yunnan, and has a special provincial twist. Instead of winning teams being awarded cash prizes, all proceeds generated from sponsors and merchandise sales will be donated to survivors of the devastating 2014 earthquake in nearby Ludian County (鲁甸县).

While the soaring and rugged mountains of Yunnan's northwest may be better known to most, Dashanbao National Nature Reserve boasts stunning scenery of its own. Vast canyons, such as the one playing host to the week-long Wings for Love event, feature immense vertical drops, some of which top out at over 3,000 meters.

In 2005, part of the region spanning 3,150 hectares was placed under conservation by the government, largely to protect native black-necked cranes. For the next week at least, the vulnerable birds will have to share the skies above Zhaotong with an international collection of human adrenaline junkies.

Image: ECNS

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