It’s All About Three Seconds, Part 2

One concern I have as an organizer is getting all twelve airplanes into the pre-determined aircraft formation. My concerns are soon alleviated at 16,500 feet when a nearly flawless formation begins to form. Watching the aircraft in such a precise flying formation and seeing the jumpers start to exit from the other planes is simply breathtaking. Never had I witnessed such an awesome display of human and mechanical flight. The first jump went quite well considering we just launched 300 people, out of 12 planes for the first time on American soil. The jump was a nice attempt and the level of talent is evident that this record is possible.

The third jump of the first day ends tragically! One of our captains, Sandy Wambach was knocked unconscious during a freefall collision on the break off sequence. She was unable to deploy her parachute. Two of my former skydiving students, who are now instructors themselves, raced to try to save her. One of them tried desperately to open her parachute, but just missed her. He was dangerously close to the ground and had only a few seconds to deploy his parachute or face the same fate as Sandy. He deployed his parachute and watched helplessly as her figure fell to the earth.

On the ground my husband, who is an emergency medicine physician, quickly rushed to the scene. In just a few minutes, he returned and confirmed my worst fears. Sandy was dead.

As the organizer, my job right now is to remain calm, keep a stiff upper lip and take care of the business at hand. As a close friend of Sandy’s the pain was just starting to seep into me that she was truly gone. Keeping 300 people calm is nearly impossible, after a tragedy such as this. We all knew Sandy would want us to keep going and to get that record we had all worked so hard for. The record will be dedicated to Sandy when we built it. Everyone will work hard for this goal.

The next day we met with the team and made sure everyone feels comfortable continuing with the skydive. We fully understand the impact that Sandy’s death has on many of the jumpers. I adjust the formation to accommodate the loss of those jumpers wishing to sit down for the day. The last thing we want is to try to build a world record formation with skydivers whose heart and head are somewhere other than the task at hand. We have a memorial service for Sandy, at the airport and one of the pilots’ volunteers to fly her body back home to Virginia.

The attempts continued throughout the week, building up to 230 people or so, but we aren’t holding the formation for the required three seconds.

It is time to start cutting some of the personnel off the record jumps. If we need to, we can cut up to 99 people and still walk away with a world record. Taking someone off of the record is difficult, but understandably part of the game.


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