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What event would bring together doctors, builders, aerospace engineers, commercial divers, firefighters, lawyers, military and other professions from 28 nations to converge on a small city in California, 90 miles north of the Mexican border? Well of course it’s the Team Ripcord 150-way POPS world record event at Skydive Perris in October.
Team Ripcord was created by Arizona skydiver Kimbo Godwin, who back in 2011 decided to raise the bar on POPS (Parachutists Over Phorty Society) events.
This has resulted in Team Ripcord setting POPS world records in 2014, 2015 and two in 2016. As formation size continued to increase, the leadership and talent Kimbo asked to join Team Ripcord events has also improved.
So, the scene was set for 2018, the venue Skydive Perris, arguably the best dropzone in the world, an international team of 150 talented skydivers, 3 Skyvans and 4 Twin Otter aircraft, world class organisers and plane captains combined with the best big way leader on the planet, Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld.
What could possibly go wrong?…
The Warm up
There was ample opportunity to get even more current before the main event with optional warm-up jumps on the preceding day and also a Team Elite POPS sequential record event organised by Guy Wright to set California’s largest sequential and World sequential records. Team Elite were successful in setting a new 4 point 32-way sequential world POPS record. Following this they started doing more complex 36-way sequentials. I was honoured to get a slot in Guy’s 36-way group and was looking forward to my first world sequential record.
Hideously, tragedy struck (two days before the event) when Peter Zimmerli (originally from Scotland, now resident in New York) had a medical issue while under canopy (the Riverside County Coroner’s final autopsy report quoted a Hemopericardium [blood in the sac that surrounds the heart] … due to a Ruptured Myocardial Infarct [heart attack] that occurred days earlier). The dropzone shut down operations after this which allowed his friends who were there and arriving at the dropzone to grieve and share the many fond memories of him.
Event Day 1 – 11th October 2018
An early start was required for the ‘suited-up’ event introduction at 07.00hrs where Kimbo Godwin introduced the event, honoured Peter Zimmerli, then introduced all the plane captains; Larry Henderson (Plane A), Victor Kravtsov (Plane B), Kate Cooper-Jensen (Plane C), Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld (lead Plane), Guy Wright (Plane E), Tim Weible (Plane F) and Jim McCormick (Plane G). Dan BC gave us all a comprehensive DZ and safety briefing on all aspects of the skydive after breakoff including landing patterns, reinforcing nearly every aspect of these at least twice. It would later transpire that not everyone was on receive/remember/repeat mode.
With overcast skies we had ample time to dirt dive, go through the exit frame and repeat the process. With the slotting information e-mailed to all the skydivers beforehand this made the initial dirt dive formation walk-up very easy as everyone knew where to go and also which aircraft they were in. As second last diver (G20) in the right/right/right trail aircraft with 200-way and 300-way world record holders on either side of me in an outer whacker (line) I was a happy skydiver.
Having waited for a few hours, we had had plenty of time to visualise the dive and were keen to get into the air. The first three jumps were to be with no grips for all of the eight sectors with only the base allowed to build. On a formation of this size there is no easy slot and the 40-way base comprised of skydivers from all 7 aircraft!
As we climbed to our exit altitude of 16,500ft, I took some solace from the session I had in the Bedford wind tunnel with ‘Milko’ and Siân a few weeks earlier, where they put me through my paces and said I was more than ready for the sequentials and the main event.
The first jump went reasonably well - in the air at least - however the landing proved to be perilous! Kate Cooper-Jensen had to take evasive action to avoid another jumper who had made a major safety violation and as a consequence Kate suffered a severe back injury. Another jumper broke their leg while a third pulled a hamstring. Three injured skydivers and two ambulances on the DZ was certainly not a good start - showing just how unforgiving our sport is.
The second (last) jump of the first day showed more people getting closer to the base and identified where improvements and changes were required. This is where the plane captains and organisers play an absolutely vital part in the success of an event like this. The captains during their private review of the jumps use their knowledge from tens of thousands of jumps to identify cause and effect, with the corresponding changes that need to be made to people’s equipment (eg weight/jumpsuit), flying, then moving slots and if necessary replacing skydivers with others from the ‘bench’ or ‘alpha team’. Then they have to debrief effectively to their respective sectors in the appropriate manner to ensure that teams remain positive and motivated, while taking on board what needs to be done differently.
Event Days 2 and 3
The third jump of the event was a good one - in the air - and provided the plane captains with the confidence that the whole team were now ready to take grips if the formation and individuals were ready. However, tragedy struck again on landing. This time Mark Brown, a resident Perris FS load organiser and probably the most current skydiver in the group, broke his leg and dislocated his ankle while sliding in on landing (the 20Ib weight belt did not help)!
On the following two jumps, still from 16,500ft, all the sectors did a great job but were unable to dock due to issues in the base. More uncharacteristic poor weather grounded us for the rest of day 2 and all of day 3.
Event Day 4
After a day on the ground and with it being the final day of the event, we were all hoping that the last day/last jump magic that so often leads to a completion would bless us all today.
Dan BC assured us that the base would build and who would argue with Dan, so we knew that all we then had to do was our own job. Exit altitude for the first time was raised to 18,500ft, giving us another 12 seconds and possibly even another 3 seconds if we were near to a completion at the planned 7500ft (high) breakoff altitude. So, we had plenty of time to get this done.
There was a calm, focus and determination from everyone as we collected into our plane groups and headed out to the seven white aircraft for our sixth jump. What could possibly go wrong?…
For my jump, once again the visuals diving out, seeing the streams of 100+ skydivers leaving all (most) of the other aircraft was overwhelmingly awesome, however there was no time to linger, only dive, dive dive! Having got to the formation quickly, I can recall just how much time I had waiting to dock.
The video debrief was very impressive, a good base with everyone else close together, but something looked wrong? A complete sector was missing?!! One of the Skyvans (plane E) door would not stay open, consequently no one exited the aircraft!
It was our best jump and we knew the record was there to be had. All of the leadership team and plane captains agreed that we were way ahead of the curve to set a new record and would get it in another few jumps (jump 8 was cited). Kimbo subsequently said that “it was by far the best team we have ever had.”
So, when Dan BC announced “that due to the time it would take to make the necessary changes, reslot and dirt dive etc we would overshoot the event finish time, hence that was to be our last jump” the team let rip. I have never seen anyone disagree with Dan, let alone 150 (OK say 140) skydivers booing the man himself! He took it exceedingly well; when things eventually calmed down, he raised his hands and said OK carry on the abuse, which we did!
Behind the scenes
To bring together an event like this requires a mammoth amount of work by the organisers, both before and during the event. Around 1,000 hours of planning was required in the preceding year - and that’s also while doing full time jobs. The whole of the Kimbo family are involved with Valerie doing the book keeping while their daughters, Kylie, Kaden and Macy are the youngest ground crew in the business - their youngest daughter was aged 8 when Team Ripcord started! The formation took 30 hours to slot and over 100 slot changes were made during the event - respect.
In addition to all the planning and having skydivers with the necessary skills, the dropzone infrastructure, aircraft, pilots and leadership of the event are all crucial elements. The professional set up at Skydive Perris and leadership of particularly Dan BC and Kate Cooper-Jensen are pivotal to success. So many thanks also to Skydive Perris.
Team Godwin have said that Team Ripcord will be back to organise another 150-way POPS world record event in October 2020 at Skydive Perris. So, for all you thirty somethings out there, there is plenty of time to get ready. Applications will be invited early in 2020, with jumping only 23 months away!
In conclusion, it was an event memorable for “a whole bunch of firsts” where Team Ripcord and a talented group of international skydivers (aged over forty) were ultimately beaten only by the weather.
Thank you, Team Ripcord.