Felix Baumgarten jumps from a capsule in the earth's stratosphere.
Felix Baumgarten jumps from a capsule in the earth's stratosphere.

Energy drink giant Red Bull has come under fire after the seventh person in recent years was killed taking part in one of the extreme sports events the company sponsors.

Last week Guido Gehrmann, 38, the personal pilot of Red Bull's Austrian founder Dieter Mateschitz, was killed trying to crash-land his Bede BD-5 microjet whilst returning from a Red Bull sponsored air acrobatics and motorsports event in the Tyrol.

The engine of the plane, one of the tiniest models in the world, had failed and Gehrmann was trying to guide the aircraft down to land on a motorway cleared by police when the accident happened.

Gehrmann was a former world hang-gliding champion and commercial pilot and also a member of the Flying Bulls display team.

Red Bull spends up to a third of its profits on marketing, or a billion pounds annually, and was one of the first companies to sponsor extreme sports events before also moving into sponsoring more mainstream sports including football and Formula 1 motor racing.

It sponsors a range of adrenaline junkie stunts and extreme sports competitions, and last year was behind Felix Baumgarten's jump from a balloon in the stratosphere, in which he broke a number of records, and became the first person to break the freefall sound barrier.

But critics argue that the company's policy of backing dangerous extreme sports is irresponsible, and two days before Gehrmann's death, Austrian broadcaster ARD showed a documentary, Red Bull's Dark Side, in which many aired their concerns and pointed to the rising death toll linked to the company.

The youngest of the seven victims since 2007 is Toriano Wilson, 14, who was run over by another vehicle and killed at a Red Bull motorcycling event in 2008. In 2009 Ueli Gegenschatz attempted to parachute from a 288-feet tall tower in Switzerland, was blown by the wind against a building and fell to his death, provoking outrage in the country.

"This is an unbearable symbol of the cynicism and the perversion of event marketing," said Herman Strittmatter, a Swiss marketing expert, in the film.

Some allege that athletes are placed under pressure to undertake ever riskier challenges to secure sponsorship.

Critics also criticise Red Bull's decision to release a documentary entitled Shane McConkey: You have one life. Live it, after the Canadian fell to his death in 2009 attempting to base jump from a 1,000 ft cliff in the Dolomites.

"Red Bull has developed a marketing strategy that is, in a sense, without any competition, because no-one else dares to elevate dangerous living to a programme." - professor Norbert Bolz, a Communications expert, told ARD.

"It is, has been, and always will be our intention to help extraordinary people to reach their extraordinary goals," said Red Bull in a statement to the Times. "Many of these goals are connected to low risks, while others are connected to greater risks."