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Skydivers Realize Bobo's Big Dream

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ELLINGTON -- Marylou Laughlin wiped tears from her eyes as she walked off the field next to Ellington Airport, her parachute in tow. Moments earlier, she was one of 39 skydivers to form a flower-like formation thousands of feet above. The formation set a state skydiving record - all in the name of Robert "Bobo" Bonadies, an instructor who died in a parachuting accident May 6. Bonadies died helping a student pull her parachute rip cord; he never had time to pull his own, police and skydivers said.

"This is the first time I cried since the fatality," said Laughlin, of Granby, who is the United States Parachutist Association regional director and a member of Connecticut Parachutists Inc.

"It was like Bobo was really with us," she said.

Wednesday was the first of a two-day skydiving event that Bonadies, president of the Connecticut group, helped plan. Bonadies, 47, of Vernon, wanted to get more than three dozen skydivers airborne to complete the formation.

The club's goal was 56 skydivers, a far cry from the 28 who failed to properly complete a formation in an impromptu jump eight years ago.

Rather than dampen their passion, Bonadies' death motivated the skydivers to carry on. Called "Bobo's Big Dream," the event continues today, as skydivers attempt to form multiple formations within jumps.

More than 50 skydivers traveled from as far as Philadelphia for the first day of jumping. They ranged from 67-year-old Howard Burling of Bristol to Paula Philbrook of Pepperell, Mass., who brought her 4-year-old son and mother to watch.

But success wasn't easy to achieve. Menacing rain clouds kept skydivers on the ground until the afternoon. Then, as the sun broke through the clouds, revealing blue patches, the skydivers got ready for the first jump.

First, they practiced on the ground ("dirt diving"). Hunched over like dads playing monster, they extended their arms, moved toward each other to form loops and broke away. They rehearsed jumping out of the plane on wooden platforms.

Then came the real thing.

Thirty-nine parachutists, plus three with video cameras, piled into three planes. On the first jump, the formation was almost completed, save for a few jumpers who were unable to latch onto a loop. The second time, 40 jumpers were too far apart to create any kind of pattern, save the central ring.

The third time was the charm. Thirty-nine skydivers fell into formation like clockwork, forming four rings outside a central ring. Three of the outer rings, or "rooms," had a jumper in the middle. The fourth room was empty, in a salute to Bonadies.

By one count, the skydivers held on to each other for 11 seconds. That's out of a 50-second descent from 13,500 feet at about 120 mph.

Their landings were staggered, punctuated by fluttering parachutes. Spectators cheered as skydivers whooshed across the grass below and hugged one another.

"Hey, don't forget, guys, that wasn't 39, it was 40, and it was for Bobo," said Roger Ponce de Leon of Hamden, who helped plan the formations.

~ The Hartford Courant



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