Strong Saves Small Irish DropzoneBy David Byrnes on 2008-04-23
Imagine as a Dropzone Operator waking up at 7:30am on a sunny summer morning to discover that the dropzone has been broken into by thieves in the middle of the night and that all your student equipment is gone!
On the morning of June 1st, 2007 Skydive Ireland received a serious blow when all of our student equipment was stolen in the middle of the night by thieves leaving us grounded and unable to take our customers skydiving. All of our Solo Student rigs and all of our Tandem equipment was gone just like that without trace leaving us completely disabled with very little options. I mean let's face it, in our industry the option of taking a trip to the local adventure store to replace your stolen parachute equipment just simply does not exist. Irish winters are really long and here we are having just arrived at the peak season of summer with the sun shining and an empty gear room with no manufacturers nearby and no friendly dropzone to offer assistance in our time of need, it is well and truly at that point you say to yourself…. We're F**ked!
This is the type of scenario you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy and this disaster threatened the DZ's very existence since we were a new DZ and only a few months old at the time. We tried to remain composed and think of a clear plan of action to recover from this situation with our first instinct to go on the search for our brand new equipment that was lifted in the wee twilight hours of a summer's morning. The police were dispatched but the real truth of the matter was that the equipment was gone and our worst fear was that this was a specifically targeted job since no other valuable equipment was stolen. Whoever did it knew what they were coming for. There were mixed feeling as we found it difficult to believe another Skydiver could possibly be behind this hit. We figured if it was regular thieves that they would have found more value in expensive wide screen televisions and other similar types of equipment that would sell very easily on the street. With only two skydiving centers in Ireland who were these people planning on selling stolen student parachute equipment to?
Having come to terms with the mornings events and dealing with the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach I knew that we had to figure a solution fast and turned to the Skydiving Industry for support. What I suppose was the standard thing to do I did and that was to call the manufactures of the brand new equipment and surely they would be willing to use their resources to rescue us. The Tandem rigs we had were Paratec Next Tandem since we are based in Europe I figured it best to deal more locally for my Tandem gear. So calls were made to Paratec and the situation explained and the consequences of what would happen to us were easily understood. In naive hope I never thought that there would be an issue of support but I was greatly disappointed beyond words to be told by Paratec that there is no equipment they could dispatch to us to assist their customer and fellow skydivers recover this emergency and that they cannot part with their one and only Tandem Demo rig. I wasn't impressed.
A cold chill rand down my back with the shocking realization that we were now isolated from other Tandem Equipment Manufacturers who were now all based several thousand miles away and now in the month of June the parachute manufacturing industry was in peak demand with typical 12-14 week delivery schedules. I hurried to dropzone.com in desperate search of some used Tandem Equipment in the classifieds but there was nothing there that was suitable or easily accessible. The other dilemma of course was that all of my Tandem Instructors were rated under the Vector Tandem program so we didn't exactly have the option of just going with any Tandem rig that was available. I'm sure you can start to appreciate the nightmare situation we were now facing and running out of options.
It was time to revert back to the manufacturers and try to plead for their understanding to help them understand how serious this situation had escalated. I mean seriously, does it get much worse than this?
I made the best move as a dropzone owner that I have done to date. I picked up the phone and called Strong Enterprises based in Orlando Florida. I was greeted by a very friendly Sales Manager named John Makoski who immediately begin to work a plan to dispatch replacement equipment without delay to get us back in the air. I mean this guy dropped everything he was doing and put Skydive Ireland on his highest priority and he just couldn't believe that something like this happened to us. It was due to his concerned response to our situation and seeing lighting speed response to getting this situation under control that I was finally able to regroup and feel the weight of a thousand elephants lift right off my shoulders. Here was a manufacturer who I had never bought a single piece of equipment from or never benefitted their business in any way begin to treat my small company like I was their biggest client.
Within a few hours John had gotten approval from Mr. Ted Strong who everybody knows is the owner of Strong Enterprises and was authorized to immediately dispatch 6 Dual Hawk Tandem Systems from their large inventory of stock and make the arrangements to get them to Ireland without delay. I couldn't believe it! This was incredible and I just couldn't express how grateful I was to be picked up in the hand of this Parachute Manufacturing Giant and begin to feel that everything was going to be alright.
Then suddenly I had an anti climax when I realized that none of my Tandem Instructors were certified to use the Dual Hawk Tandem. With this piercing feeling in my brain another whole began to bore deep when I thought to myself that perhaps this company might take advantage of me and demand a higher than normal sale price since I didn't have any other choice and finally I began to wonder how am I going to afford 6 new Tandem Systems in light of our break in and something I haven't mentioned yet was that our stolen equipment was not even insured. This is not good.
So now I am wondering how this is going to pan out and that I still have to get 6 Tandem Rigs each weighing about 65 lbs to Ireland as fast as possible and at a price I could afford and then find someone who could just fire up a Dual Hawk Instructors Course to get us rated to use the equipment. This is when Mr. Tom Noonan, Strong's Tandem Course Director was introduced to me and in a friendly and supportive voice over the phone said that he had taken the initiative and booked flights direct to Ireland and will personally deliver the equipment and spend the time here to qualify all of my Instructors on the Dual Hawk Tandem and that they will provide the new equipment to me at a hugely discounted price and that they will allow a few months for me to be able to pay for the vast majority of it all!
If any of you reading this has ever experienced an immense rush of extreme and unquantifiable feeling of gratitude, relief followed by a dash of excitement and an overflow of amazement at this level of concern and support it was actually quite hard to digest and realize that these guys were willing to do all of this for me. What an incredible level of customer focused service. This is mind blowing stuff and every Dropzone Operator should be seriously paying attention to this. I can honestly say that this is something I have never heard of another manufacturer do in this type of situation in my 13 years of Skydiving. Lets be honest and say that this was a huge risk for Strong in that what if I went bust because of this situation and was not in a position to repay them for their equipment and I had it in Ireland. But they weren't one bit concerned about this and only cared about getting my little DZ back up and running and the deal Tom made with me was that I would have to buy him a few pints of the black stuff in an authentic Irish pub. That was an easy deal to agree I can tell ya!
It wasn't long before I was at Shannon Airport shaking hands with the man who flew through the night across the broad Atlantic loaded with Parachute Equipment for delivery and to provide immediate expert training and certification on the Dual Hawks to get us back in the action. This was now all starting to feel very surreal. With his surname being Noonan and being from Boston it was evident Tom was from Irish descent and had always looked forward to visiting his ancestors home. As we sat in a typical Irish Country style pub with symbols of the old Irish culture and harder times of the past it was about 7:30am it was time to start cashing in on our deal. So I ordered a few pints of the black stuff and Tom, Darren and myself toasted to a new chapter and to recovering Skydive Ireland and feasted on a full Irish Breakfast till we were as fat as cows.
Now beginning to show signs of a long night spent travelling and with a fully loaded belly and a nice few pints of Guinness we headed back to my house so Tom could refresh and get some sleep. Darren and I unloaded the car and all our new gear was in black gear bags and it felt really good holding Dual Hawk Tandem Parachute Systems in my arms and feeling like everything is getting back on track. I don't think I will ever be able to explain the feeling accurately enough so I won't even try or I'll end up just babbling. So with Tom now out for the count I was anxious to try on our brand new Dual Hawks so we pulled out two of them and immediately begin to start dissecting the rig to discover it's features and to see how it feels. As a certified parachute rigger for more the n10 years I immediately begin to admire the workmanship of this parachute system and to examine its components which at first glance had me realize this was not just another Tandem System. With features such as the dual loop main canopy closure to prevent a nasty horse-shoe and the anti-line dump line stows. Even the fine detail of the position of the RSL to deal with a possible riser breakage to avoid a premature reserve deployment. I really liked the feature of the Master 400 sqft Reserve canopy which is comforting to know this canopy is thoroughly designed to meet the most demanding Tandem nightmare. One of the really exciting things about it was that they were all equipped with the brand new development from Strong which is the superb all ZP material SET 366 Main Tandem Canopy configured with Single Brake setup. I was not getting really buzzed about flying this new toy.
It was obvious that this rig was built for Tandem Skydiving from the ground up and was rugged to last the test if time. We now had a serious set of kit that made our stolen Tandem Systems look like plain old modified sports rigs. I couldn't get over the size of the Drogue and what I immediately liked was the simplicity of the main and reserve deployment sequences. On our other Tandem Systems there seemed to be a confusing amount of handles which offered a great risk of causing the Instructor confusion in a high stress situation. I had always thought the more handles the better because of more options but then thought that simple is better given the statistics that ALL Tandem Fatalities were due to Instructor error. I was now keen to complete the Strong Tandem Instructor Candidate Course which for us would be the cross over from another Tandem Rating so it meant less jumps to become certified on the Dual Hawk then if we were starting out as new Instructors.
Later that day when Tom arose from the dead we made a plan to get going the next day with the Course Material and waste no time in getting it completed. Throughout the course I found Tom Noonan to be an excellent Examiner to work with and what was most apparent was that not a single ounce of ego was present in his natural ability to make a person feel comfortable and help us understand the functions of the Dual Hawk and was patient with all of our questions and comparisons and scenarios with the what we had been used to jumping and now getting excited about jumping the Dual Hawk. I was anxious to feel what freefall will be like with the position of the Drogue attachment at the base of the Reserve Tray unlike the Vector 2 style system which gives a really nice position in freefall and makes for an excellent Student freefall position for the Video and Photos. I can honestly say from going as passenger that the Student Harness is the most comfortable out of all the harnesses which makes for some very happy customers. Tom did an excellent job at completing the course qualifying myself and my Instructors. He worked very hard and was very committed to his very high standard of safety and awareness and we all learned a lot of valuable skills and information from him. He is a true professional and loves what he does and I was glad that with his proud Irish heritage he was able to visit Ireland and Skydive at my DZ with beautiful views of lakes and mountains Tom became attached to the place and has since returned again to Ireland to spend time with us doing further training to qualify a Strong Tandem Examiner to make us more self sufficient.
Tom has become a great friend and I will always be grateful for what Strong Enterprises did for my dropzone. Without them we were well and truly hammered. I could spend a few paragraphs telling you what I thought about the other manufacturers lack of support in our time of need but it would just simple take aware from the value of this story but what I will advise from our experience is that when choosing your equipment especially when you're living depends on it is imperative you choose a manufacturer who can back you up when the shit hits the fan. I have only good things to say about the Dual Hawk and with almost a year of full time jumping the Dual Hawk and sweet soft opening of the new SET 366 and zero cutaways I can only say you will look long and hard for a Tandem System of this caliber. Once you see past the fluff of the other Tandem systems with other manufacturers competing to be the most inventive it stands to this day that the Dual Hawk is the most proven Tandem system in the world and was designed by a great man who was the true pioneer of Tandem Skydiving, Mr. Ted Strong.
Thank you all the Team at Strong Enterprises in Orlando Florida. You saved our bacon and have been a huge source of support and inspiration to my dropzone and you are to be applauded for your concern and the dropzone rescue operation you handles so professionally and I hope one day I can repay you.
I am glad to report that some of our stolen parachute equipment surfaced in Eastern Europe in the country of Lituania which we were able to retrieve. The gear had been in use at a Skydiving Center and when I discovered this I made contact with the Dropzone to inform them they were using stolen Parachute Equipment. Investigations are pending to source that carried out this terrible crime and to ensure they do not do it to another dropzone again.Blue Skies,
DZO - Skydive Ireland
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