Inside Richard Branson's Many Near-Death Experiences

Richard Branson is a billionaire entrepreneur, owning more than 100 businesses. He's been a knight since 1999, and he donates extensively to charities (via Britannica). However, he may be better known for his stunts and daredevil risk-taking. CNN notes that in Branson's second autobiography, "Finding My Virginity," he includes a section called "75 Close Shaves," in which he describes his many, many near-death experiences.

They start as far back 1972, when he was 22 and on his honeymoon. He and his first wife, Kristen Tomassi, were on a fishing boat when it began to sink. He and Tomassi jumped off and swam to shore, but the other boat passengers didn't jump and didn't survive (via CNN).

Branson has continually put himself in potentially dangerous situations. Last year, he even went to space, taking a suborbital flight in a spacecraft belonging to his company Virgin Galactic, which is aiming to promote space tourism. That flight apparently went well. Here on Earth, Branson has gone sky-diving and bungee jumping and has tried to break records in power boating and hot-air balloon flights. Here's a look at some of his misadventures.

Branson's stunt accidents

When Branson married his second and current wife, Joan Templeman, he wanted to make a splashy entrance. He jumped from a helicopter into a pool — but accidentally missed the deep end and, in his own words, "smashed my legs" in the shallow end (via CNN).

In 2004, he was starring in his own show, "The Rebel Billionaire." For the show, he agreed to bungee jump off Victoria Falls (pictured) in southern Africa. He ended up with a head injury after hitting something on the way down.

Three years later, he jumped off Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas to promote new flights to the city on his airline, Virgin America. It was a 40-foot drop, KVBC news reported. Strong winds made him fall faster than he expected, and he slammed backward into one of the buildings, ending up with quite a few cuts and bruises (via CNN). Back on the ground, he spoke to the crowd briefly before heading off for medical treatment, per KVBC. That's only the tip of the iceberg of Branson's stunts.

Hot-air balloon records and accidents

Branson has broken records in boating, amphibious vehicles, kite surfing, and hot-air balloon flying, which he calls his "favorite form of transport" per Business Insider. In 1987, he and co-pilot Per Lindstrand (pictured with Branson) set a record for flying a hot-air balloon across the Atlantic Ocean, in the biggest and fastest balloon ever made to that point. However, things went awry before they landed. After a mechanism on the balloon failed, Lindstrand thought they would crash and jumped into the Irish Sea. This caused the balloon to carry Branson extremely high. He thought he was going to die but eventually brought the balloon back down enough that he, too, could jump into the sea. The British Royal Navy rescued them (via Business Insider).

Despite that harrowing experience, he and two others also set the record for crossing the Pacific Ocean in a hot-air balloon in 1991. That trip was even more dangerous because they lost half their fuel early in the journey. They managed to fly the balloon into the jet stream and ultimately land in the Canadian Arctic, according to Business Insider. Considering they'd believed they were going to crash into the ocean, this was a preferable outcome. All of this happened after the balloon had caught fire even earlier in the trip (via CNN).

World circumnavigation attempts

The next record Branson wanted to set was circumnavigating the globe in a hot-air balloon, which no one had done at that point. He tried and failed four times, according to Business Insider. Once, he and his companions crash-landed in the Sahara Desert. The helium in their balloon had contracted too fast, causing them to fall rapidly. They managed to soften the landing by dumping weight off the balloon. Unfortunately, once on the ground, they ended up as hostages of an Algerian warlord. Branson called it "the most sort-of-luxurious kidnapping ever," per Forbes. They were eventually rescued by the Algerian president, when he learned of the situation. Branson remained fond of the area, and has his own private retreat in Morocco.

On another circumnavigation attempt, he ended up in the Chinese Himalayas by accident and were almost shot by the Chinese Air Force. British diplomats — and Branson's secretary — ultimately saved him from that predicament (via Business Insider).

Ordinary accidents

Branson seems to be accident-prone even when he's not performing stunts or setting records. In his long list of "close shaves," he lists a few that happened in less extreme situations. In 1980 he was on Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands when he stubbed his toe and, off-balance, fell into a gorge. He managed to hold onto both sides of the gorge instead of falling to the bottom. A friend pulled him back, saving him, Branson says, from "certain death on the jagged rocks below" (via CNN).

A few years later, he survived a bad car accident in the Alps. He skidded on ice, and his car went off a small cliff and flipped over. In 2001, while looking over trains owned by one of his companies, he almost stepped onto the tracks, which he says were "live" with 25,000 volts. He would have been electrocuted.

Is it all just publicity?

Branson was still doing enough adventuring at around age 66 to have another near-death experience. He was biking on Virgin Gorda, also in the British Virgin Islands, when he flipped over the handlebars of the bike. The bike then fell over a cliff. Branson came out of it alive but badly injured, according to CNN.

Branson has been accused of performing his stunts simply to publicize his companies, but he claims that isn't true. He said in a TED interview he just wanted the challenges and the experiences. However, he does admit that the stunts "helped put Virgin on the map globally," but public relations experts, he said, have actually told him that "as an airline owner the last thing I should be doing" is constantly crashing (via Business Insider).

He says that as he gets older, he has less desire to perform daring feats, preferring to focus on his charitable work. He'd rather not be remembered as the guy in the balloon.