If it’s springtime in Southern California, you can count on a horde of skydivers of a certain age flocking to Skydive Perris. That was certainly the case this April, when more than 100 members of Jumpers Over Seventy and Skydivers Over Sixty—subgroups of the Parachutists Over Phorty Society—convened for the annual JOS, SOS and WSOS (Women Skydivers Over Sixty) World Record Events. Nearly half of the skydivers signed up for two or more events, and 22 of the jumpers were first-time attendees. The event also had an international flavor: The 81 SOS members who attended represented eight countries. And this year, women broke the glass ceiling when Carol Jones became the first woman to be in a base group and Paula Thues became the first female plane captain for the SOS record. There were so many firsts that the Bomb Shelter Restaurant and Bar worried about running out of beer!
JOS Kicks It Off
The record series kicked off on April 20. First up was the three-day JOS world record event. Thirty-two skydivers in their 70s from Canada, Germany, Sweden and the U.S. participated. On the first day, organizers Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld and Jones broke the jumpers into two groups. One group practiced building the 6-way base chunk and docking on it, and the other group worked on outside flying with coach Mark Brown. Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld led the debriefs of the base group and by the end of the day selected the 30-person record team.
The following day, the record attempts began in earnest out of a Skyvan and Twin Otter. The first four jumps were disappointing, and the organizers made several slot changes and whittled the formation down to a 25-way by the end of the day.
The next morning, Brodsky-Chenfeld and Jones told the group that they wanted to further reduce the group size and aim for a sequential record instead of a single-point record. The participants—determined to keep the team at 25—loudly and resoundingly voted the idea down, leaving Brodsky-Chenfeld speechless but impressed. The group’s determination paid off. On the third jump of the last day, the JOS group built a 25-way and held it for 15 seconds, setting a JOS World Record for Largest Formation Skydive and besting the previous world record by one jumper.
The Women Step Up
Next up, on April 23, were the women. Without enough attendees to beat the current Tiny Broadwick Memorial Record (the POPS designation for all women’s records set by members of POPS or one of its subgroups), the 14 women set their sights on the sequential record. With the coaching of Thues and Jones, the group built a three-point 13-way on the third attempt, setting a POPS TBM and SOS TBM World Record for Largest Two-Point and Three-Point Formation Skydive, once again besting the previous records by one jumper. The participating women hailed from the U.S. and Canada, and four of them were over age 70!
Weather holds held up jumping a bit in the days before the main event—the SOS world record—began on April 25. However, during breaks in the weather, Bob Felt, Glenn Hall and Diana Krutchen managed to set an SOS World Record for Largest 18-Point Formation Skydive.
The main event—the SOS world record attempts—began its scheduled 15-jump series on April 25. The group dedicated the attempts to Steve Love, a popular load organizer from Pennsylvania who only weeks earlier lost his life to cancer. Love successfully spearheaded several POPS and SOS state records and was a fixture at world record events. Larry Thomas, one of Love’s oldest friends, handed out stickers printed with the mantra that Love recited at the end of his dirt dives: “Don’t Hurt the Bald Guy.”
The first day of the SOS jumps was devoted to refining technique. Marshall Madden led the 8-way base, which pulled off near-perfect exits on just about every jump. Plane captains Brown, Marty Jones, Thomas and Thues concentrated on creating a stable 32-way, with only the early zippers and stingers docking. That first day, the outer skydivers simply flew their slots without grips.
The next day, 75 skydivers and camera flyers Craig O’Brien and Terry Weatherford piled into four Skyvans to begin the assault on the standing 65-way record. The result of the first attempt was encouraging but also heartbreaking. Everyone docked, but two whackers lost grips prior to the formation completing. The group had gotten so close to crushing the record by 10 jumpers on its first attempt!
The next skydives produced varying results, and the organizers made some slot changes and reductions in the formation. The third jump on Saturday was a second heartbreaker: A 68-way built quickly and calmly and flew for about 10 seconds, but one skydiver went low. The last jump that day was almost as good, but two or three jumpers failed to dock. The results led Brodsky-Chenfeld to playfully scold the group, claiming that the jumpers were intentionally holding out on him and planning to rally the next day, the last of the event.
Only two jumps remained on Sunday for the 66-way attempt. High drama ensued as a bank of clouds initially covered Perris at breakoff altitude. When the skies cleared enough to get the four planes safely to 16,500 feet, the group fell short once again. To top it off, one jumper, David Robinson, pulled a hamstring on landing and wasn’t sure if he’d be able to make the last skydive. But the DZ’s massage therapist kneaded the muscle, and he managed to board for the final attempt.
As the formation load climbed to altitude it looked as if the cloud layer was going to move and once again thwart the skydive. Brodsky-Chenfeld spotted from the ground and guided the four planes to the north end of the DZ, where there was enough clearance for a safe exit. Finally, ground observers clearly saw the completed web of jumpers and two videographers. The team had set an SOS World Record for Largest Formation Skydive!
At the final banquet, served poolside by the Bomb Shelter Restaurant, the group expressed gratitude to its sponsors Advanced Aerospace Designs, Aerodyne Research, Bev Suits, Innovative Parachute Technologies, Parachute Labs, the International Skydiving Museum and Hall of Fame, SSK Industries, Sunrise Manufacturing and Vertical Suits. Lastly, the skydivers and organizers recognized the ground crew volunteers who assisted during the entire week.
More information about the Parachutists Over Phorty Society and its subgroups is available at thepops.org.
The 25-Way JOS World Record for Largest Formation Skydive
The 13-Way POPS TBM and SOS TBM World Records for Largest Two- and Three-Point Formation Skydive
66-Way SOS World Record for Largest Formation Skydive
Carlo De Martino
Joe Pete LoRusso
Butch Van Lewis