Skydivers' stunt makes national news By WILLIAM BYGRAVE email@example.com
LAKE WALES -- Anyone lucky enough to look up in the sky over the Lake Wales Airport on Nov. 29 saw a huge, kite-shaped formation of colorful parachute canopies, unlike anything that ever graced local skies up to then.
And if things go as the Florida Skydiving Center hopes, there may be even bigger formations above Lake Wales before the end of the year.
But the Nov. 29 spectacle doesn't belong to Lake Wales alone. A detailed article about the formation was released in the January 2003 issue of "Parachutist," the official magazine of the Virginia-based U.S. Parachute Association.
The issue's cover is graced with a photo of the formation above Lake Wales.
"The fact there was an article is fantastic," said Debby Wharton, marketing director at the skydiving center. "Everybody is very excited about it, especially with the cover shot. It was amazing, absolutely incredible."
Although center owner Betty Kabeller is out of town in North Carolina, Wharton said, "she was delighted with it."
She said anyone who missed seeing that formation missed out on a treat.
"It was amazing to see it build up and then fly. It was like one of the old galleon ships," Wharton said of the formation.
There were 50 skydivers who, according to Lyn Hannah's article, made up a formation that stood more than 200 feet high, stretched 120 feet wide and weighed about 10,000 pounds.
"Even more remarkable, jumpers didn't build the formation only once -- they built it five times in one day," the article was quoted as saying.
Wharton explained the formations were part of a record attempt that started on Thanksgiving, a day that was given over to practice.
"They built it up 25 ways and then 30 ways to get the base stable," she added.
Then on Friday, everyone got down to business. They did the first 50-way formation, but it didn't count, as one of the jumpers wasn't attached in a place where he was supposed to be.
"The next time, they broke the U.S. record of a 46-way formation," Wharton said. And they did that five consecutive times.
Wharton said the base formation always had the same jumpers but they rotated the jumpers who were on the periphery.
"Everybody here was able to be in on the record-breaking jump that day," she said.
Looking at it from an airman's point of view, Mark Gabriel, a center pilot who flew jumpers in the Super Otter, said "all of the canopies and people were in the right formation the first time."
Then on Saturday morning, the jumpers made a 56-way formation which beat the old 53-way world record.
The only thing was, it was an unofficial record. To make it official, it has to be judged by judges from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI), the world governing body for parachutists.
Wharton explained that two judges would need to be from the FAI, along with a nationally-credentialled judge, and all taking part would need to be FAI members as well.
The people at the skydive center hope they will prepare the center to host an official record attempt toward the end of this year.
She's optimistic the center will be chosen to play host because of "the fact that everyone was very impressed with the drop zone, the staff, the aircraft and everything else."
And the fact the Lake Wales drop zone was featured in a monthly magazine can't hurt, either.