Felix Baumgartner, the world's first supersonic skydiver, has admitted he was "terrified" and feared he would black out as he spun violently out of control 39 kilometres above the Earth during his death-defying leap from the edge of space.
The man known as "Fearless Felix", whose record-breaking jump transfixed millions, admitted just how close he came to disaster, describing the descent as "like hell".
Out of control ... Felix Baumgartner spirals into a "death spin" during his freefall from the edge of space.
Baumgartner, 43, said pressure built up in his head as he reached a top speed of 1341.97km/h. His 100-strong support team on the ground, including his mother, Eva, and his girlfriend, Nicole Oetl, had their hearts in their mouths as he spent 35 seconds fighting to contain a "death spin" which, had it got worse, risked causing the blood vessels in his brain and eyes to burst.
The Austrian stuntman, who did not look down before he jumped, said: "The exit was perfect, then I started tumbling. I thought I'd get it under control, but then it really started. I really picked up speed, it got very violent. It was really brutal at times.
"I thought for a few seconds, I'll fall unconscious. Thank goodness I managed to stop, it was very difficult. It was much more difficult than many of us expected.
Successful jump ... Felix Baumgartner celebrates.
"In that situation, when you spin around, it's like hell and you don't know if you can get out of that spin or not. Of course it was terrifying. I was fighting all the way down because I knew that there must be a moment where I can handle it. For some reason, that spin became so violent, over all axes, and it was hard to know how to get out of that spin."
Describing how he struggled to stabilise himself during a total of four minutes and 20 seconds in free fall, Baumgartner added: "It's like swimming without touching the water, and it's hard because every time it turns you around you have to figure out what to do. So I was sticking my arm out, then it became worse.
"I had a lot of pressure in my head. But I didn't feel like I was passing out. I was still feeling OK. I thought, 'I can handle the situation.' And I did."
On top of the world ... Felix Baumgartner jumps out of his capsule.
After seven years of planning, Baumgartner's jump had already been delayed several times, and he almost had to abort it again at the last minute.
As he ascended in a capsule under a 55-storey helium balloon his helmet visor began fogging up.
"You think you'll have to abort - what if you've prepared everything and it fails on a visor problem? But I finally decided to jump. And it was the right decision."
His main concern was not to fail in front of his family, adding "You do not want to die in front of your parents and all these people. I thought, 'please God, don't let me down."'
Baumgartner has proposed to Miss Oetl, according to a friend, and they intend to get married in the New Year.
A source close to the skydiver said: "He loves Nicole like mad and now will walk her up the aisle as he has achieved the ultimate in his profession."
The Daily Telegraph, London