"Skydive Eilat" is one of only two skydiving clubs in Israel. Roy Ritter, the Chief Instructor is very proud of his 800 members but especially of the 16 year old Omri Galili who at the age of 10 announced: "I want to be a Skydiver." When he was 8, Omri Galili arrived along with his family for a vacation in Eilat. Like any other kid who comes to town he swam in the red sea and the pool, and also visited the different attractions, among them - the Airodium (Vertical Wind Tunnel).
But unlike any other kid that visit changed his life. Omri fell in love with "flying". During the next visits of his family in Eilat, he kept going to the Airodium and turned the visit into a "week of flying", says Roy Ritter who's family owns the Airodium.
"Already at the age of 10 he told me he is going to take the skydiving course", says Ritter about his young trainee. But Omri had to be patient. The skydiving course can only be taken after the age of 18. So in the meantime he kept getting more air time in the Airodium, and the checks he got from his Bar-Mitsvah he deposited into a savings account.
When he got to the age that he could start skydiving, Omri came to the dropzone for a skydiving course which he got as a present from his mother on his 16 birthday. On Friday, April 13th his dream came true, and he jumped out of the plane. Despite of the date (Friday the 13th...), Omri wanted to jump anyway. "I didn't know what to expect, I was frightened and I was screaming", admits Omri. During the first 3 jumps the parachute is opened automatically by a static-line almost right after you leave the plane. Thereafter the skydiver has to pull the pilot chute himself.
Omri has now jumped 31 times since that first jump. A great achievement for someone who has just finished the course a month ago. Every Friday he arrives to the dropzone, and there with the other skydivers he jumps, packs his parachute and when his turn comes he gets on the plane and jumps again.
A MINUTE WITH GOD
What makes people get on a small plane, climb to the height of 12000ft, jump out of it to fall for a whole minute?
At Friday afternoons, the "Skydive Eilat" dropzone is crowded with men and women, mostly youngsters, waiting for their turn to get on the plane. The whole procedure starts with gearing up, through waiting at the waiting point, the flight up, the jump and getting back to the hangar, and finally the tiresome job of packing the parachute.
Between jumps, they eat, exchange experiences, and catch a short nap in the shade. Bout not Omri. After the landing, he picks up the parachute and goes to the hangar to do what every skydiver hates the most - packing! Omri lays the parachute on the ground and desperately looks at the mess of the strings and fabric. While his hands dig and turn the fabric over, he exchanges experiences and impressions with his skydiving friends. Later they talk about altimeters and different kinds of parachutes, and all in a totally professional language. Most of the information is taken from the Internet.
"When Omri wanted to buy a parachute, he came to me with specific details of what he wants", explains Ritter, "he knew exactly which kind, size and colors he wants, everything".
The experience the older skydivers get in the field, the younger ones get from the Internet. At the club itself there are no differences. Everybody mingle with everybody: CIO editors, pilots, insurance agents, hi-tech people, students and high school pupils.
20 Percent of the skydivers are girls and their numbers are rising. Since there is no limitation on food before skydiving, everybody is busy eating what Dudi is making them. Everybody but Omri. After finishing packing the parachute, he sits on the benches not eating, not drinking and only waiting for his turn to go on the plane again.
Q: What does your mother say?
"She's cool with it. She's not frightened, only calls at the end of the day to ask how it was. I want her to do a Tandem, which is a skydive for two people, when the instructor and the student are connected together with a special harness."
You don't have to take the course to do a Tandem, and it is suitable for everybody, 13 year old children and over 70 year old elders. Even people with physical disabilities and blind people for example can also do a Tandem.
TO SIT IN THE AIR
And what exactly are the skydivers going through?
After getting on one of the two planes, one of them was purchased recently, the skydivers take off to the height of 12000ft (4km). At the signal of the instructor, they sit at the edge of the plane and after another signal, they jump. Then for a minute, at a fall rate of 250km/h, they fall. While falling with movements of the arms and the legs, you can sit, stand on your head and also do flips backwards and forwards, or dock with other skydivers for a group formation.
After the first minute, which is as the skydivers say, the best part, you open the main parachute and float down.
Q: What's in that freefall?
Omri: You can't explain that feeling in words. You have to jump yourself to understand. Your body turns into a flying machine. Your arms and legs are like wings of a plane, and every movement effect your body."
Q: And what do you think about while you are falling?
"While freefall I think only about I'm gonna do at the next moment and just have fun. The thoughts are always focused on the jump."
You could've thought that one of the main reasons to skydive at the area of Eilat is the incredible view, but apparently that's not it. "It isn't the view, it's the people that jump here", explain Omri.
Q: And have you done scuba diving?
"Nope. And I'm not interested in that either. I don't relate to the underwater view".
"It's the adrenaline", explains Omri's sister, Efrat, which is also caught in the skydiving enthusiasm. After landing she breaks into screams of excitement. "I was screaming up in the air also", she laughs. "What a trip it was", said some other skydivers.
Omri and Efrat were at the dropzone when the accident of the English skydiver who broke his leg occurred. Both of them don't understand why he did the turn so close to the ground. Both of them weren't intimidated by it. "There's nothing you can do, it's a dangerous sport", says Ritter, the chief instructor, who has about 4,500 jumps and was second place world champion in '94 for 2-way skydiving.
There are two skydiving clubs in Israel- "Skydive Eilat", and "Paradive" at the Bonim beach. "And that's quite a lot for a small country like Israel", explains Ritter. The dropzone in Eilat was opened at 1996, and it's a family club. As mentioned, Roy is the chief instructor, and his sister Noya with 900 jumps is the dropzone manager and also an instructor. Their father, Moshe, flies the planes. 800 skydivers are members in the club. Skydivers from all around the world arrive there, among them Kenshy from Japan, who after doing a Tandem while he visited in Eilat, decided to take a course and eventually decided to stay in Israel. Today he works at the Jewelry Stock Exchange in Ramat-Gan and comes to the club every weekend.
Q: Has it ever happened that someone got into the plane and didn't want to jump?
Roy: "there was a reporter at the US who did a big article about skydiving and she was to jump herself, but she got cold feet at the last minute. Skydiving is addictive. And most of those who tried it wouldn't give up the treat."
"I'm looking at the menu in a restaurant and thinking that for a meals price and a little bit more I can jump, so I give other things up", says an enthusiastic skydiver.
For those of you who are interested, we will tell that it's not a cheap story - a skydiving course lasts 4 days and costs 990$. "In the north and other places in the world the price is much higher. 1500$", says Roy, "We're cheaper, because we have the Airodium. The students fly first at the wind tunnel, and only then gets to the dropzone. It's a great practice and prevents mistakes".
The jumps themselves are also not cheap. A price of every jump 250 NIS (New Israeli Shekel, 64$). Omri who dropped out of school for personal reasons, works at operating a chat room of the Israeli children channel, and that's how he finances his jumps. He also bought a parachute which he paid for by himself with a little help from his grandfather.
Omri comes every weekend to Eilat to jump, and gets his rides with other skydivers from the north. "And what do you do in the evening, go to parties in Eilat?". Efrat and Omri shake their heads: "After a day of jumping we don't have the strength to move", says Eftat.
At the dropzone there are also air conditioned bunk houses, and at the end of the day, the guys continue diving. Straight to bed...
The parachute is made of a Teflon fabric and silicone. The fabric is strong, light and can handle large mass. Every skydiver has also a helmet, altimeter, audible altimeter that beeps and tells you when it's time to open. If for some reason, the main parachute didn't open, there is a "babysitter", which is a black box that automatically opens the reserve parachute. And of course there are the jump suits. Despite of their beauty, they are not necessary, and you can jump in the nude. And some do. A few tourist skydivers chose to celebrate the new millennium with nude skydiving, and pictures of that funny jump decorate the club's walls.
"Every skydiver has a nickname", says Ritter. Omri, who is today the youngest skydiver in Israel got the nickname FLY BABY. Omri likes his nickname very much: "Here the age doesn't matter. We are all skydivers and we are all friends. They treat me like an adult, and only sometimes they call me kid".
When the "kid" grows up, he wants to be a skydiving instructor. "He will be an instructor and he will come to instruct here", says Ritter with pride. "I want him to do it all. You are looking at the pride of the club!".