$27 Million Settlement in Skydiving Plane Crash

    A Jackson County judge on Thursday approved a $27.5 million settlement for families of the pilot and five sky divers killed in a Grain Valley plane crash. Engine manufacturer Teledyne Continental Motors of Mobile, Ala., is to divide the money equally among the six families. The company admitted no fault in the settlement.
    Circuit Judge J.D. Williamson approved the settlement after hearing from members of four families. Lawyers said it will become final soon after members of the other two families testify. The checks are to be paid by May 11.
    Lawyers said the $27.5 million was among the nation's largest pretrial settlements in the crash of a small plane.
    Plaintiff attorney Gary C. Robb said a separate contractual agreement with the company, involving engine overhaul manuals, was more important to his clients than the money. Teledyne pledged to revise the manuals.
    "From the beginning our clients wanted to remedy the engine problem," Robb said. "They have succeeded."
    The company denies any engine problem.
    Robb, who represented the four families at the Thursday hearing, said the March 21, 1998, crash happened because badly designed oil transfer tubes failed and starved the engine of oil.
    Smoke and flames billowed from the Cessna engine as the pilot tried to land at Grain Valley Airport. The plane clipped a tree, cart-wheeled to the ground and burst into flames. All aboard died.
    Robb said his review of the company records found 14 other cases of engine failure caused by such oil tube failures. The records only go back to the mid-1980s, though the company made engines with the faulty tubes from 1945 to 1995, Robb said. The engines went into small planes made by many different companies, Robb said.
    "Who knows how many other engine failures and deaths resulted because of this," Robb said after the hearing.
    Robert W. Cotter, attorney for the company, disagreed with Robb. He said the oil tubes did not cause engine failures. He admitted no liability.
    Separate from the legal settlement, the four families received letters from Cotter Thursday. In them, the company pledged to change its printed and Web site overhaul manuals to tell mechanics and owners to inspect the oil transfer tubes.
    Cotter said he would not comment on letters that were separate from the settlement. Robb said the pledge is part of a legally binding contract.
    Members of the four families said they never would have agreed to the settlement without the letters.
    Judi Rudder of Oskaloosa, Kan., widow of sky diver Marion Rudder, said the families quickly agreed on two things - a required warning and an even split of any settlement.
    "Our whole mission on this was to keep people safe," she said. "We knew together we could make a bigger difference, and we wanted to be fair."
    Brad Buckley of Independence, the son of sky diver Kenney Buckley, said he lost a father and did not want others to lose loved ones.
    Other members of the Greater Kansas City Skydiving Club who died were Eric Rueff, John Schuman and Julie Douglass. The pilot, David Snyder, also died in the crash. The Snyder and Douglass families are to appear at later hearings to finalize the settlement.
    Belinda Schuman of Lawrence, widow of John Schuman, said the families want to make it clear that a plane crash - not a skydiving accident - killed their loved ones.
    Her husband loved skydiving and had made 2,300 jumps, she said. "We got married on the anniversary day of his first jump; he said he'd always remember that date."
    Another defendant, Jewell Aircraft Inc. of Holly Springs, Miss., settled the case previously for $1 million, which also was equally divided among the six families. The company, which admitted no wrongdoing, did an engine overhaul on the Cessna 10 years ago.
    Robb said he probably would drop the case against several other defendants that include Whuffo III, the owner of the plane; Freeflight Aviation Inc., an aircraft maintenance company; and White Industries, a company that sold the engine.
    His investigation, Robb said, also answered the key question of why the sky divers did not jump out of the plane.
    When the pilot first radioed at 3,000 feet that he heard an engine noise, he called off the jump and started to land, Robb said, but by the time the engine burst into flames it was too low for anyone to jump.
    Judi Rudder said the question of why no one jumped had troubled her.
    "They just didn't know it was going to be that bad," she said. "They thought they could get down safely."

    By admin, in News,

    Dana Bowman Brings Hope

    ALEDO - For 20 students in Stacie Ragle's fourth-grade class at Stuard Elementary School, helicopter pilot Dana Bowman's visit Friday was an exciting learning experience. For one student, 10-year-old Kylie Houx, the visit was a chance to prepare for the fact that on May 8 her feet will be amputated.
    Bowman, a former Army Golden Knights parachutist who lost parts of his legs in a skydiving accident seven years ago, flew to the school in a Bell 206 Jetranger III to show Kylie and her classmates that losing an extremity does not necessarily mean losing ability.

    "It's not about disabilities. It's about abilities," the retired Army sergeant said.

    Kylie was born with a medical condition that retards bone growth in her lower legs. As she grows, her feet lean inward, causing her to walk increasingly on her instep.
    The problem becomes more severe over time, and although surgeries and medical devices have given her some relief, the best option clearly is replacing her feet with prostheses, said her father, Frank Houx, a 45-year-old car salesman.
    Bowman, who lives in Weatherford, was injured Feb. 6, 1994, as he practiced with fellow Golden Knights parachutist Jose Aguillon over Yuma, Ariz. The two collided at a combined speed of about 300 miles per hour while rehearsing a maneuver in free fall. An automatic device opened Bowman's parachute when they collided. Aguillon was killed.
    Bowman's left leg was amputated below the knee, his right leg above the knee. Since the accident, he has jumped with the Golden Knights, has earned a bachelor's degree in aeronautics from the University of North Dakota, and has become a certified helicopter instructor. He also skis, on snow and water, and scuba dives.
    Through the Dana Bowman Limb Bank Foundation, a nonprofit organization he heads, Bowman makes speaking appearances nationwide. He distributes information about himself and his foundation through a Web page, www.danabowman.com.
    Bowman told the students that he overcame the mental and physical pain of his injuries and loss and lives a full life. He uses modern prostheses of steel and titanium. His brain has allowed him to pick himself up and to do anything he wants, he said.
    "I've still got my mind, right?" he told the students.
    Turning to Kylie, he encouraged her about the pending surgery.
    "You are going to be able to do whatever you want to do," he said.
    After the talk, Kylie and her parents went up for a few minutes in the helicopter.
    Kylie, small, blond and shy, said she learned much from Bowman's speech but didn't quite feel like talking much about the day.
    During the helicopter ride, she talked away, her father said.
    "She was just rattling away on the headsets."
    Joanie Houx, 47, said the visit helped her daughter.
    "Kids get scared about this," she said. "When they see something like this, it makes everybody more comfortable."
    For more info go to Dana's web site

    By admin, in News,

    Jim Slaton - Advanced Canopy Pilot

    Jim Slaton is widely recognized as one of the most accomplished canopy pilots in the world. Dropzone.com spoke to him and asked him about his involvement in the newly formed Para-Performance Pro Tour. We also wanted to know more about the Evolution Canopy Control School and used the opportunity to ask him about his thoughts on the wing loading and how small he thinks canopies will shrink. Here's what he told us and some more.
    Tell us about your involvement in the Para-Performance Pro Tour?
    I am the Para-Performance Pro Tour event director.
    Who are the drivers behind this new initiative and how did it all come together? Tell us a bit about the history.
    After several years of observation, it was clear that the evolution of the high performance canopy pilot was out growing our available competition circuit. I listened to what the competitor wanted and required. Almost every Pro competitor motivated me to build a tour in one-way or the other.
    What are the goals of the Para-Performance Pro Tour? What would you like to see happen in the next year, two years?
    The goals of the Para-Pro Tour are simple: "Provide intense, challenging swooping competitions in the safest manner possible for the evolution of high performance canopy flight". We have set goals and we plan to see them through. For example, none of the competitions or judging on the tour will be open for interpretation. Canopy pilots on tour will be ranked and competition records will be recorded.
    What do you consider to be the biggest challenges and obstacles on the road to success? What is success in the context of the tour?
    Three words: Participation, Education & Motivation
    Tell me a bit about the Evolution Canopy Control School.
    Elsinore Evolution offers professional canopy instruction tailored for today's modern skydiver. The school offers beginner, intermediate & advanced coaching. The school is the next step in the evolution of controlled canopy flight.
    Who's involved? How did you guys come on the idea?
    Elsinore Evolution is made up of Icarus Canopies factory team (Luigi Cani, J.C. Colclasure, Clint Clawson, Jim Slaton, Wyat Drews). The idea of creating a canopy control school is not new. In fact, professional skydivers have been onto the idea since the early 1990s and probably before. With the rising popularity of high performance parachutes and it's extreme canopy competitions, it's a good time to offer a structured alternative to learning the old fashion way.
    Any takers? Do you find that people are interested in formal canopy flight training?
    We have had a lot of students taking advantage of this program. Most of the students are learning the basics and several others are preparing for their first canopy competition.
    Who and how are you teaching? Who are you targeting - experienced swoopers who want to become great or will you take me too?
    The Flight training program starts with basic aerodynamics and then moves on to design parameters, flight environment, psychological approach, flight training & high performance flight training. The student starts the course based on his or her experience, learning objectives, and goals, etc. The school offers training for all levels of canopy pilots.
    How did you get into high performance canopy competitions?
    I started competing in competitions through a canopy manufacture. Parachute testing and just fooling around with my friends.
    What do you see as your greatest achievement in skydiving?
    That's a hard question. I guess I have enjoyed providing an additional opportunity for the skydiving community. I've enjoyed organizing canopy competitions for my friends and fellow skydivers.
    Besides swooping, what's your favorite skydiving discipline?
    I would have to say freeflying. I was part of the "Orbit Punks" freefly team and operated a freefly school before dedicating all my time to canopy swooping.
    What's your favorite canopy and wing load combination?
    ICARUS EXTREME CANOPIES. I enjoy flying at several different wing loadings. I can't tell you what my favorite wing loading is but I will say I feel the most efficient at around 2.3..... or is it 2.6?

    With your team mate Luis Cani flying a 46 sq Ft canopy and talking about trying something smaller, how small do you think we could go?
    Luigi & me spend a lot of time experimenting with wing loadings and airfoil types. I have seen Luigi load himself up with weights and fly the VX46 at over a 4.7 wing loading! However, Luigi is one of the best canopy pilots in the world and has one of the best testing grounds as well. There comes a point with aerodynamics that you start sacrificing one type of performance for another. When you reach a high enough wing loading for your airfoil type, you begin sacrificing lift for speed. The smaller the wing and the higher the wing loading, the more airspeed you need to create lift. All pilots need lift for a safe and productive landing. This is why parachutes flown at very high wing loadings don't always out swoop their competition and don't always land pretty. Overloaded canopies are not always efficient and are very tricky to land. However, just because they are not efficient doesn't mean they can't be landed safely. Technological advancements in canopy designs have open new doors for pilots flying at higher wing loadings with smaller wings. Future designs will make this opportunity even more epic! I feel Luigi Cani could successfully land an Icarus Extreme down to 28 sq feet! This is a bold statement, but I know he can and probably will. Keep in mind Luigi makes over 1000 jumps each year and trains daily in high performance canopy landings. He has some of the best aerodynamic engineers in the world behind him and is backed with the support of some of the biggest canopy manufactures in the business.
    What would you consider to be low, high, medium and extreme wing loading?
    Low 1.2-Med 1.6- High 1.9........Extreme loading are 2.0 and above
    What advice would you give someone just starting with swooping who plans to become good at it?
    Take advice, choose wisely who you listen to, train hard, stay current, be patient, make a plan, stick to the plan, explore all aspects of your current canopy before you move on, practice high speed approaches and new maneuvers over water, wear a helmet, don't panic, think ahead, make a smooth approach, make smooth inputs to the canopy, pay attention to what your canopy is doing, don't force it & BREATH!
    Thinking about the high number of people hurting and killing themselves under perfectly good canopies, what do you think is the most common mistake that can prevent a lot of these accidents from happening?
    A pilot needs to understand some basic aerodynamics. The pilot needs to know why canopies act the way they do when they do. If you understand the performance envelope of your canopy and it's limitations, you can better understand what to ask of it or what not to ask of it. To make things worse, the wind is never constant, turbulence is always waiting, density altitude is changing and the pilot has to deal with this all at the same time during his final approach. As a wise man once said, "Never initiate a turn you won't be able to complete before you hit the ground"
    About Jim Slaton
    Age: 30

    Hometown: Amarillo, TX

    Home Drop Zone: Skydive Elsinore, Ca
    Year of First jump: 1990
    Championships: 2000 Pro Blade World Freefall Champion, Para-Performance Games 3rd place-accuracy record holder-Distance record holder (321 feet!), PSST Caribbean Challenge 3rd place, 2000 Summer Jam Canopy Challenge Champion, Pro Blade Houston 4th place, ect
    Total Jumps: 3000 or so
    How many cutaways do you have? 20 (I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not)
    What gear do you jump?
    Icarus Canopies, Precision reserves, Infinity rigs, Cypress (waterproof housing) Pro Track/Pro Dytter, Jump Shack custom pilot chutes, Firefly jumpsuits, Bonehead helmets, Gatorz eyewear
    What canopies do you own or fly?
    Icarus Extreme VX 60,65,69,70,84
    How did you become interested in skydiving? Through the military
    Who have been your skydiving role models?
    J.C. Colclasure, Rob Harris, and that older guy that always jumped with his dog at Quincy!
    What do you like most about this sport?
    Skydiving allows us the opportunity to explore the limits of human flight.
    What do you like least about this sport? Politics
    If you had to quit skydiving tomorrow, what would you want to do instead?
    Become an astronaut
    Tell us something most people don't know about you.
    I spent 10 years on active duty in the Army Airborne Ranger Regiment. In addition, I lived in Germany and spent four years as a parachute test jumper for a European company.
    Anything else people should know about Jim Slaton?
    I think I have said enough already, Peace!!!!

    By admin, in News,

    Skydivers Leap from Malaysian Tower

    Fifty-three skydivers have leapt off the world's fourth tallest communications building, the broadcasting tower in Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur. Hundreds of people watched the jumps off the observation deck of the 421m tower to celebrate Kuala Lumpur's City Day.
    It is the second time in recent weeks Malaysia has allowed skydivers to parachute off buildings - a sport that has proved controversial in other countries.

    Base-jumping - or parachuting from buildings, bridges and cliffs - is considered more dangerous than conventional skydiving from planes and at least 39 people have died since 1980.
    It runs foul of trespassing laws in most countries, where governments and property owners fear lawsuits if there is an accident, and many jumps are now carried out in secret.
    However, Malaysia has welcomed the sport, which some say could be promoted as a tourist attraction. On New Year's Eve, 15 jumpers leapt off Kuala Lumpur's Petronas Twin Towers, the world's tallest buildings.
    Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad expressed delight at the feat which was watched by 100,000 people.
    The company which set up the event hopes to stage an extreme jumping world championship in Malaysia in August.
    Those taking part in the latest leap included skydivers from America, Australia, Malaysia, Sweden, Canada, Britain, Iceland, Norway, New Zealand and Switzerland.
    Each parachutist was expected to make 10 jumps from the 300m mark on the tower during the six-hour event. The skydivers freefell for about three seconds before opening their parachutes.
    "It's a treat to be here," said British jumper Nikolas Hartshorne. "Malaysia has done something that America won't do."
    "Getting a building elsewhere is very hard," added American Avery Badenhop. "But here, people seem to realise we should be free. It's our life, it's our fate."
    Malaysian officials say they recognise the perils of base jumping and all 53 parachutists signed insurance waivers.
    Rozitah Idris, marketing manager for the broadcasting tower, said he believed the sport would help draw tourists to Malaysia.

    By admin, in News,

    Skydivers interested in renting at Garrett

    MCHENRY -- Tandem skydiving may come to the Garrett County Airport if the Pittsburgh Skydiving Center Inc. meets four requirements set by the Garrett County Commissioners on Tuesday.
    Saying an agreement should be no more restrictive nor more liberal than others operating out of the airport, the commissioners agreed with the recommendation of the Garrett County Airport Commission.
    Director of General Services Gary Mullich presented an official request from the Pittsburgh Skydiving Center in December for a formal lease agreement with the airport by Jan. 31.
    The commissioners approved the request but did not agree to a waiver of liability insurance. The county does not have any building space to lease to the center, and area for land lease would need to be added to the Airport Layout Plan and approved by the Federal Aviation Administration. Electricity and water are not provided to land lease tenants; they provide their own.
    "You would have to have a good reason to deny anyone the use of the airport," Mullich said, since it receives federal funds. The skydiving center would have to give the county a hold-harmless agreement and would have to have an agreement with the county if it uses the airport as a base of operation.
    Don Bick of the skydiving club, which operates out of Connellsville (Pa.) Airport, met with members of the advisory group in December. He would like a standard three- or five-year lease, beginning May 1, with an option to renew. The group is interested in leasing appropriate building space or installing a mobile office.
    The county requires $1 million general liability coverage. The skydiving group has $1 million in premise or "slip and fall" insurance, and $50,000 in third-party insurance for all licensed skydivers through the United States Parachute Association, but says it cannot get general liability coverage, Mullich said.
    Bob Railey, a local pilot, said the group seemed to have a pretty smooth operation at Connellsville. He said it might be possible for them to just use a trailer as an office on weekends. He felt it would be an attractive business for the county and could not see any airplane operations vs. skydiving issues that would hinder either activity.
    Ken Wishnick, president of the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce, said the skydiving club had joined the chamber and asked if any staff members wanted to jump. "A few are actually considering it," said Wishnick.
    "I would love to do this myself," said Deb Clatterbuck of the chamber. "You would be jumping with a jump master," she said, stressing safety must be first.
    The addition of the skydiving, Clatterbuck said, "would be an inclusion of another adventure sport and of course, the increased amusement tax received off that." Also the number of take-offs and landings at the airport would help make it eligible for an increased runway.
    "Dick assured us the jump would not interfere with any planes coming in, and would not take up much room at the airport," said Caroline Hill, co-manager of the Garrett County Airport. "He said they were quite busy up in Connellsville. They haven't had any problems, but there are a lot of questions to be answered.
    "Some local people have supported him and I think there is an interest," she said. She is worried some about parking problems because of the participants and curiosity-seekers the event would draw.

    By admin, in News,

    Skydiver falls to death in DeLand

    DELAND -- A skydiver plummeted to her death Wednesday evening near U.S. 92, and investigators worked well into the night trying to determine exactly what happened during the final moments of her fall.
    Chantal Bonitto, 31, of New York City, was pronounced dead at the scene, an EVAC spokesman said.
    Her body was discovered shortly after 5:30 p.m. in a wooded area along U.S. 92, directly behind the Flo Met office building at 810 Flight Line Blvd.
    Bonitto was vacationing in the area and was taking part in jumps offered by Skydive DeLand, according to the DeLand Police Department.
    She was no stranger to skydiving, having completed at least 100 jumps, said DeLand Police Lt. Paul Proctor.
    "It's still too early to tell what happened," Proctor said Wednesday night. "At 100 jumps, it would seem to be they know what they're doing to a certain degree."
    Proctor said people who witnessed Bonitto's fall offered conflicting stories as to whether the woman's parachute opened.
    "That's where some of the stories differ," he said.
    Some eyewitnesses reported they did not see a parachute open. Others, Proctor said, reported seeing Bonitto perform a "cut-away," detaching herself from the primary parachute in an effort to deploy a back-up canopy.
    Proctor said local investigators, along with the Federal Aviation Administration, will investigate the incident.
    He said more witnesses would be interviewed, including the pilot of the plane from which Bonitto jumped.
    Bonitto was married, and her husband was at the scene Wednesday night. His name was not immediately available.
    Proctor said he did not know if Bonitto's husband was a skydiver.
    Skydiving injuries and fatal accidents occur sporadically in DeLand, Proctor said, due in part to the sheer volume of participants.
    Skydive DeLand officials have previously said they average nearly 85,000 jumps per year.
    "There are just a huge number of skydivers in the area," Proctor said.
    Two skydivers were reported injured in April, one of them critically.
    In April 1999, a French skydiver died after her parachute malfunctioned and failed to open properly. The 55-year-old woman was an experienced skydiver with more than 500 jumps.
    2000 News-Journal Corp.

    By admin, in News,

    Wild Humans - A Reputation in Rotation

    For the past three US Nationals, the Wild Humans have topped their competition in the canopy relative work event of 4-way rotation. Known in the past as rogues and the back street gang of the CRW community, this reformed team is marking up a new chapter and serious side to their history. Sort of.
    "This is the first Nationals we didn't have a cutaway," says Stu Wyatt. "(In the past), we hardly ever practiced. We were known for coming and getting our practice at competitions. We always had the attention of everyone, because we were learning while we were on video."
    The history of this team starts as far back as 1979. Stu Wyatt's older brother, Doug, started skydiving shortly after Stu, and because they had "a bad reputation for wanting to learn too fast," people veered away from jumping with them. That left each other. So, the two brothers spent a lot of time doing stacks and free fall together.
    Around 1981, Jeff Wagner asked the two brothers if they wanted to build a canopy formation team, with Bill Storms as their fourth. The team, Wild Humans, was born.
    Wagner organized one of their first experiences together. Wagner wanted his NCCS, an 8-stack award. It was to be performed at night, under the full moon out at Stapleton. Stu, who up to that point had no more than a 3-stack experience, closed the top as number 9, and Wagner got his award.
    "I was jazzed," says Stu. "I didn't get the NCCS (due to technical fumbling), but we got broke in pretty good.".
    The team started competing and training for the Nationals. They got third place that year. They also entered the Nationals with one different team member, but they were just going to learn and have fun. After about three competitions, the team faded.
    Scott Chew, wanting a new chapter on the Wild Humans, approached the Wyatt brothers three years ago about reforming. Scott wanted them all to commit to a certain amount of training jumps. Joined by Joe Berning, the same four have won the gold at the '98, '99 and '00 Nationals. They also had the opportunity to go to the World Championships in Finland, where they placed fourth overall, but were proud to give the top-ranked Italians a run for their money on the first round.
    Doug notes, "We're way more serious. Used to be completely for fun."
    In that vein, they put in about 100 training jumps a year at their home drop zone in Colorado. They also had Scott, a certified rigger, redesign their deployment procedure with a pull-out pilot chute system.
    Doug says, "We lost a lot of points in Finland over a pilot chute in tow. Our (new) method allows us to pull the pin by putting the pilot chute handle inside, up against the apex where the bridle meets."
    Another feature also flattens their pilot chutes after their canopies open. "Even though our parachutes are so little (126 PD Lightnings), we can't have that little pilot chute up there; it will affect our landings," notes Doug. "Our wing loading is 1.7. And these canopies aren't designed to land well from the get-go."
    So, these US Nationals proved to be their test run, and it was their best to date. Their throwaway round was 16 points, five points better than their competition's best. They will be attending next year's World Meet in Spain.
    "To be in contention, we need to get 200 practice jumps in between now and then. The big boys in the world get 500-600 practice jumps," says Stu. "We're looking for sponsorship. There's only so much T-shirts can do for you."
    But one thing the Wild Humans have always excelled at is public relations. In Finland, "while we were doing formation, we were the only team that landed together, and it excited the fans. They were rooting for the USA, even over their own teams," says Doug.
    Their name and attitude definitely precedes them. And their tattoos. The temporary gnarly, tooth canopy tattoos seem to be stuck on anybody within their reach.
    "It's a good ice-breaker with people; we talk to them, and it's a little more personable. Then, we try to sell them a T-shirt," laughs Stu.
    But for the World Meet, "we plan on keeping the same game plan. If we're consistent, we can do it," says Stu. "This is the first time we've put up consistent scores all the way along. But even in those 17's, we had some problems. We want to work out those glitches."
    However, it was their very own Scott Chew who was awarded a very special honor, the Overall Canopy Relative Work Medal, for scoring the best in all three CRW events.
    "Usually, it goes to a team, but these guys let me ditch them," Scott laughs. He joined Clean Leap in 8-way speed, and his Wild Human teammates says it was due to no less than Scott's presence that Clean Leap won their gold.
    Scott has 6,000 jumps, the most of his team, and has accomplished such bold maneuvers as building a 2-stack off of the River Gorge Bridge. The other three have about 3,000 jumps apiece.
    "It's amazing you can still be an athlete over 40 in CRW. Some of these old boys have been around a long time and they're good flyers. It's kind of ageless to some degree," says Stu.
    There's a history of jumping with the Wyatt brothers, and Stu has a T-shirt that lists all of the people that have competed with them.
    Stu says, "We have two rules. First, there's no such thing as rules. Second, you can't change the rules."
    So, what came first--their name or their behavior?
    Stu answers, "We considered ourselves 'wild humans' before we even got into skydiving."
    But these bad boys turned somewhat good are getting up to world-class levels. They're a little more serious, but not losing any of the fun. All four got a permanent version of their team tattoo this past summer.
    "It shows one's commitment to some degree," says Doug. A lifetime, noting the permanency of real tattoos, to which he responds, "Naw. We won't stay together a lifetime. But it'll bring back good memories."
    "Yeah, we'll be legends in our own minds," Stu jokes.

    By admin, in News,

    Alistair Hodgson - Overcoming Obstacles

    Everyone has some kind of disability; some seen outwardly, while others are not readily visible to the naked eye. Some live with the notion that the only limits we have are the ones that are self-imposed. This was clearly evident in my interaction with Alistair. Alistair came to spend a month at Skydive Arizona, his goal to become a more proficient freeflyer.
    I was so inspired by this young man that I decided to have a word with Craig Girard. I asked Craig if he would consider making a jump with him, Craig's response was a resounding yes! I then spoke with Greg Gasson about doing a photo shoot with him and Greg informed me that he had met Alistair in Sweden at a freefly festival. They had been in contact via email prior to Alistair's arrival in Arizona. Greg had taken the time to ensure that there wouldn't be anything that would prevent Alistair from jumping at the DZ, and of course he would certainly jump with him. Small world. Needless to say, Alistair is exuberant at the prospect of jumping with these two world- class skydivers that are now on his growing list of friends.

    One morning while waiting for the first lift, I asked Alistair how long he had been skydiving and why he partakes in the sport. He told me that his legs were "blown off" twelve years ago by a land mine in Ireland. He took up skydiving three years ago to experience life. In his easy manner he looked at me and posed the same question. I answered simply that I had found freedom and a sense of community. His response was a quick: "Exactly!"
    Alistair resides in England and according to him, is the first double amputee to take up skydiving in that country. He began his journey by experiencing tandems, three to be exact, and was then offered a course in freefall. Although he had static line experience from serving in the military, it was nothing compared to what he is doing now. Alistair says that he has tried everything from rock climbing to kayaking since his amputations, and found skydiving to have been the best rehabilitation. He states that he is better physical shape now, and his life much richer than before he lost his legs. Alistair went as far as to say that he even drinks less than he used to since he wants to feel his best for the next day's jumping.
    He offers that skydiving has given him his life back, and it is the only thing that he is interested in doing. His travels have taken him to several countries, and Alistair has found that the people in skydiving are generally approachable and open- minded. They are quick to offer him a hand up by lifting him into the airplane, other than that he isn't treated any differently. He feels as though he is accepted in this community, he belongs. There is of course, a curiosity that goes along with seeing a skydiver without legs, but for the most part he says that people are just glad to see him participate.

    During his visit here he was approached by one of the camera flyers for "Pieces of Eight" and asked if he was interested in flying with them. Alistair responded by saying he appreciated the inquiry and would get back to him.
    Alistair jumps in a custom made Merlin Suit that has small pockets on the legs to help catch air. He says that the suit has made all the difference for him in his freeflying. Alistair managed to maintain head-down all the way to break off for the first time while here, and is excited to learn to fly his body in this new orientation.
    I asked him if he had one piece of knowledge to impart to his fellow skydivers, what would that be? He said: "If you think you can't do something, you're right, you can't! Can't isn't something that I recognize in my vocabulary." Alistair has nearly 600 jumps to date and hopes to add an additional 100 before returning to his native England.

    By admin, in News,

    Tim and Ted Wagner - Judge(Able): The Great Debate

    "Judging was only a little bit better than last year's (Nationals). Only because it couldn't be worse." Ted Wagner at the U.S. National Skydiving Championships 2000.
    Many competitors and judges simply do not understand each other. They certainly don't agree on some of the scores that end getting posted. And maybe too often, judges miss making accurate calls, which ultimately determine some teams standing worldwide. This situation is not new to just skydiving; it's prevalent in many other sports. But observing the outcome of this year's Nationals and the numerous busts that the judges missed in their multiple viewings brings up the questions on how judges are trained and how they address their work task.
    In talking with Ted and Tim Wagner, both who have designed and revolutionized the sport with their scoring system, Omniskore, and Rob Work, who was a judge at this year's Nationals, they all agree that certain modifications would not only help everyone, but are desperately needed. All three are also former competitors and Golden Knights, so they're very aware of the views from both sides of the fence.
    Fifteen years ago, skydiving did not have full-time teams. Now, there are many, but there are still no full-time judges. Judging has not kept pace with the evolution of the sport.
    At the Nationals, the judges get paid a mere stipend of $40 a day. Tim suggests that maybe if they got paid $100 a day plus all expenses, the demand for the position would be greater.
    "Make it competitive. Sign up 15 judges, put them through boot camp before the Nationals and whoever pushes the buttons the best, put them in the meet," Tim says.
    He feels that teams that are already paying tens of thousands of dollars will be more than cooperative in paying more in entry fees just to get a higher caliber of judging. It is these very judges, who score their performance at the Nationals for example, who determine if they get to go to the World meet. This is not taken lightly by either side; however, competitors have more to lose from a false ruling or inconsistencies.
    The judges also need to practice more throughout the year. The Wagner brothers designed a piece of software a couple of years ago that mimics a judging panel, called the Omnitrainer. People can play the skydive on their VCR and practice pressing the buttons.
    More important is "knowing the dive pool inside and out like the chief judge needs to know the rules," says Ted Wagner. This is a valid reason why competitors make better judges and need to get more involved in the other side. Judges miss grips placed on the wrong leg or a jumper turned a 180 degrees in the opposite direction all the time.
    Tim brings up the theory of "perceptual judging vs. analytical judging." He compares it to reading a book. When one looks at a word in a book, one knows what it means as a whole and also knows instantly if it is misspelled. One is not dissecting its parts, or letters. Judging needs to more like that. More instinctual, instantaneous and less analytical.
    Rob Work defends the other side by saying that when he got into the judging room, he found it to be "an eye-opening experience." He notes, "They are doing their job better than I expected."
    Rob says that competitors don't understand all the elements going on inside the judging room and should experience it for themselves, if only once. Skydivers need to see how many things judges are actually looking for at the same time and the details that go into preparing a judging round. The judges can't talk to each other or shake their heads if a blatant bust occurs, and they only know a team by its number, not by its standing. Overall, it's hard, hard work.
    The judging volume at this year's Nationals of "47 skydives in a hour for 10 hours straight" does make it challenging, and human error does creep into the picture. With two panels of five judges, "hopefully, the majority catches (the bust)."
    Tim Wagner is putting together a Judge 2000 Training Tape. He did another video like this with the '98 Nationals. He compiles 40 to 50 of the more challenging skydives from the Nationals on a tape and proceeds to analyze every jump with a 30-40 page manual. He points out what the judges should look at and how they should judge, often comparing the results to how they were judged.
    He does have "the advantage of being at home, alone, with his VCR, without the pressure they're feeling here." But his goal is to supply judges with a competent tape and a full summer season in 2001 to practice.
    "The biggest obstacle is the concept of pushing the point button until they see a penalty," says Tim. "They should hover over the penalty button until they see a point, and that should be the modern concept."
    He continues, "You're not doing you're job if you don't have a lot of red marks. With fast teams like Maubeuge, you have to be on your toes. You have to be really fast."
    Because as Rob Works notes from his coaching and competitor background, it is a well known practice to try to "blind them with speed. The judges get into a button pushing mode and are not going to see it."
    "Judges are afraid to offend," says Ted, and Tim adds, "A really good judge is not there to make friends."
    But they need to know their job really well. So instead of taking a defensive stance when they're confronted by glaring, demanding competitors, judges can come back with a confident and informed response, "Show me your tape, and I’ll discuss in it what I saw or what I didn't see."

    By admin, in News,

    Airspeed Soars

    Not in the 25 years of skydiving formation competition has a team won both the 4-way and 8-way events in the same year; Arizona Airspeed dared the odds in 1999. The latest 52-minute Airspeed video, released by Solid Entertainment, produced and directed by Jonathan Griggs, is one of the best skydiving stories on the market. It's engrossing, touching and best of all, sheds a positive light on the sport. And at only $30, it sold out at Square One in its first week and is already being restocked.
    The journey started for filmmaker Griggs back in February 1999, after he had written a movie script based loosely on the Airspeed story during the time the French were dominating the competition circuit. In order to promote the script, he contacted people within skydiving, which turned up a mutual friend of his and Airspeed's. Griggs traveled to Eloy, Arizona to talk to Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld, one of Airspeed's members, about the project.
    "I was blown away by how Airspeed operated, how committed they were to the sport and thought they had an amazing group dynamic. I hadn't seen that in life, let alone skydiving," says Grigg. "Their story for that year had to be told."
    He returned to New York and began to research both the production logistics that would be involved as well as the markets. "I was turned down by everybody," Griggs grimly notes. But because time was short, he decided to go out-on-a-limb and started financing the project with his own credit cards.
    One of the most important concepts of this documentary for Griggs was to design "a mainstream program that a whuffo could enjoy watching." He wanted the audience to have an emotional attachment to the characters. He wanted to portray skydivers, not as adrenaline junkies or crazies who get killed for their recklessness, but as solid, thoughtful individuals who have a passion for life--and skydiving. "If a whuffo can identify, then you have your hook. Then, they will stay and watch."
    So taking a minimal-size documentary crew back to Eloy in June of '99, Griggs started filming the groundwork of the piece. For two weeks, he interviewed the 4-way Airspeed team, the people surrounding them and followed their daily training routine. He spent a lot of time around them, so they got used to his presence and to build up trust.
    Originally, Griggs did not intend to follow the team to the Nationals, held that year in Sebastian, Florida. He thought the presentation of two competitions, the Nationals and the World meet, would be redundant, in addition to the fact that whether Airspeed won or lost at the Nationals would be irrelevant to the World meet and their standings there. For these reasons, he only took himself to film the event.
    He was wrong on two accounts. First, Griggs shot some of his most amazing footage in Florida. No less than two world records took place at that year's Nationals and a hurricane to boot. Second, this Nationals' segment added a lot to the whole middle section of the story. These championships introduced both the 4-way and 8-way dynamics of the team, and no longer could Griggs keep them separated. They operated as a whole. The outcome of these Nationals also influenced the team's feelings very much at the World event.
    So, the tape wraps out at Corowa, Australia at the World Skydiving Championships with Airspeed, also known as Team USA, representing the United States in both the 4-way and 8-way competitions. They are going after the gold in both, which would be a first-time achievement.
    The results both at the Nationals and at the World meet may be well known to the inner skydiving world, but to newcomers and outsiders, it's unpredictable. Makes for one fascinating story.
    The video is beautifully shot, despite the raw footage only being on Beta SP and mini-DV. They filmed using only natural light, and it hasn't even been color corrected. John Castello was Grigg's cameraperson in Arizona, Jack Scott in Australia, and Griggs himself tackled that duty in Florida without any prior experience whatsoever. Combined with several freefall videographers' work, the visuals are captivating.
    The editing is especially notable. At no time is one full formation skydive played all the way through--this is a good thing. Instead, the story builds tension and compassion by cutting away to Airspeed's challengers and entourage. For non-skydivers, formation skydiving, though well explained in the video, can get monotonous to watch. Grigg's intentions of keeping us immersed in the feelings of the piece works very well.
    While Griggs was shooting in Florida, he received no less than three written offers from the Discovery channel to come into his production efforts. Now, it was his time to turn them down, as he wanted to maintain creative control and tell the story his way.
    As a result, we are rewarded with one fine masterpiece. Solid Entertainment, a distributor from California, is currently shopping Airspeed for the television market. Griggs also has a meeting with the BBC later this month.
    Griggs seized the opportunity of a weather day here at the Nationals 2000 to premiere his work to rave reviews. For Griggs, the past 18-month journey was never about the money. To him, the compliments and watching people's faces makes the trip priceless. When someone comes up to him and tells him that they now have a video that they can show their folks that shows and proves why they love skydiving so much, to Griggs, that's the biggest compliment he's gotten.

    By admin, in News,