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Max Pyro 2

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A tale of one and one-half world records, fire, and blaze as we opened the night sky

Image by Nathan Roth

In the velvety cloak of night beneath the celestial tapestry woven with stars, the stage was set for an odyssey of physical prowess and the human spirit’s relentless quest for transcendence.

In a family of choice, I was honored to stand alongside my closest peers and friends. Forty-two souls, world-class athletes, each a master of the sky, came to congregate at the brink of an endeavor that would etch our names in the annals of the extraordinary.

It is here we stood together but not alone. We stood quietly before the storm, a confluence of dreams, fears, and aspirations. Each of us carried the legacy of thousands of skydives, yet on these last few nights, we faced the unknown, a challenge that would demand every ounce of skill, courage, and camaraderie.

Image by Gustavo Cabana

Like a chariot of the gods, the aircraft ascended into the nocturnal abyss, carrying these modern-day Icaruses. We were not fleeing from the sun but chasing our luminous destinies. Inside, our hearts drummed the rhythm of anticipation beneath the suits of LED, the battery packs, the wrenched pyrotechnics, a symphony of nerves and excitement.

a symphony of nerves and excitement.

We sought new heights and came to rise to this world’s apex. We stood at the threshold, and with a collective breath that seemed to stir the cosmos, we plunged into the abyss. The night sky, a silent witness to this valor, was suddenly ablaze with the streams of fire erupting from the pyrotechnics attached to our beings—fiery comets streaking across the firmament.

For some, it’s the mandatory minimum of two night jumps…to earn that “D-license.” It’s generally accepted that we do our two, and we’re done. For others, leaping into the night from roaring planes is an undiscovered country, rich with new possibilities.

The organizing team
Image by Nathan Roth

This is a whole new world, an undiscovered landscape. I reside as a disciple of it, seeking the fleeting moments as often as circumstances allow. Like the others from this sky family, I sought this opportunity in Eloy at Skydive Arizona this past week. Many of us sought it four years ago, in March of 2020, in Houston at Skydive Spaceland. In fact, it was almost to the day. 

Twas October of 2019, just six months before the original Max Pyro at Spaceland, when fourteen of us came together. The first joint leap was somewhat spontaneous. There had been of course other pyro jumps prior, yet it was this crew with Konstantin at the helm that opened a path to forever change the landscape of bigway vertical skydiving. These first steps, a leap into night with pyrotechnics strapped to us. 

Jumpers wore pyrotechnics, each triggered their own by remote control
Image by Gustavo Cabana

It was not just a jump; it was vertical and almost 200 mph (300 kph). This past weekend marks the accomplishment of beautiful feats and goals reached. These goals are now years in the making. We’ve burned a mark in the history books, setting not one but two new world records. You could almost say the Pyro burned the pages of history. It sure did burn a small hole in the front of my LED light suit, a slight satire with no drastic consequences (although scrubbing the footage back and forth in slow motion is pretty hilarious). 

Practising the formation by daylight before the night record attempts
Image by Gustavo Cabana

Humor aside, the vision was great and bold, as was Konstantin Perijcuks’s idea, with the support and resources of our dear friend Larry Hack. The duo had incubated several ideas while sitting next to the fire pit in Larry’s backyard in Northern Houston. For Konstantin, this was one of many ideas and the seeds of many stories yet to come. With ferocity and purpose, though, they did not undertake these endeavors alone and sought the best, seeking the advisement of the legendary Arizona Arsenal team, namely Sara and Steve Curtis. It didn’t stop there with the expansiveness of Amy Chmelecki and the flourishing insight and wisdom of Matthew Fry. 

A unison of conductors aligned, and the script was born: Max Pyro 2.0!

Image by Nathan Roth

In this ethereal ballet, we were no longer mere mortals but celestial beings, painting the heavens with trails of light. The pyrotechnics, a brilliant choreography of sparks and flares, mirrored the fiery essence of our community spirits. From the ground, the fleet of freeflyers appeared as a meteor shower, a cosmic spectacle of falling stars, each a beacon of the indomitable human will.

With precision born of years of mastery, the team converged into a formation, a testament to unity and trust. In this moment, we were one entity, a constellation of human endeavors, our trails intertwining in a dance of light and shadow. The world below, distant yet captivated, watched as this human constellation emulated the celestial ones, a mirror of the universe’s grandeur. Said and done by some, but the mark we left is far more permanent. Two new world records! Although part of it feels like only one and one-half. 

For those who strive to accomplish their most significant personal challenges, world records are the landscape, and the boundary of twilight is the catalyst that reinvigorates the spirit of accomplishment. In the glory of the video, the pictures, and the complete visual spectacle, it’s very easy to lose sight of the depth of what is happening. We are not individually responsible for these records or any records. These records are communal and a testament to the significance of working together as a team. There’s a very real reason why I only consider these a-half records. 

For the restless, leaping into the night sky is not nearly enough. We amplify. It’s in this desire to create a visual spectacle where the endeavors of this past week literally shine. We blaze!

Complete 42-way by day
Image by Gustavo Cabana

In 2020, we set out to reach for this very same record but were defeated only by a lack of opportunities due to the weather. The endless days ticked as the looming pandemic gave rise to what would come after this unparalleled event, yet we were not blind to the goal. Instead, we sought the night with fervor and the focus to hold out for any attempts that would be made. And so there was one. With only one attempt available in 2020, we got close. 

This past week, we were blessed with four beautiful attempts to complete the goal. Each time was very close, and the tension and stress were high. It’s difficult to explain the mental overwhelm that can overtake us. It’s pressure! We don’t “fear,” at least not fear in the same way. Our unrest is to let down the team, sky family, and peers in life expression. Our flaw is to know that any lack in our individual performance can affect the good of the family.

Image by Gustavo Cabana

In a fourth attempt on Friday night after the twilight set, we found calm, focus, and flow. What we also found was not merely a brand new world record but the eight solid seconds of infinity for which we held it prior to breaking off. The shattering comet! 

As we neared the embrace of the Earth, we broke formation, like a meteor fracturing in the atmosphere, each of us a shard of light cascading to our individual destinies. The final deployment was the gentle denouement of this symphonic leap, a soft whisper following the crescendo of our fiery descent.

Image by Benjamin Forde / FORDESIGN 

For miles across Arizona, the cries of normal citizens echoed as they looked to the sky unbeknownst to this dramatic feat. Phones rang, radios buzzed with fear and excitement: “Are these meteors, an invasion, or even aliens finally making their debut?” These were the cries of anyone witnessing this visual spectacle, as far as an entire city away. 

Back on terra firma, amidst the echoes of this feat, we stood.  No longer just athletes but poets of the sky who had written an ephemeral epic with fire and will. We stood together as comrades amongst our support team of driven individuals who were as much the family as were the skydivers. Lovingly, these dozen were called the minions, and they remained instrumental to the success of this event. 

Image by Gustavo Cabana

no longer just athletes but poets of the sky who had written an ephemeral epic with fire and will

The first record was set, a testament to their endeavor, but within our hearts, we knew this was but a single note in the ongoing symphony, which is our devoted aspiration.  


Many of us, myself included, say with awe and admiration that this support team is not a separate entity. We stand together. We are together, the people and the family, each critical to the success of the whole.  One voice spoke for and also represented them, represented us the flyers as well.  He was there with us to set a tempo but in his typical silent way, he chose a different path of the last of the four 42-way attempts.

Rocking his epic new afro hair style, the legendary Steve Curtis stood in many ranks, alongside these feats.  As a member of the support team he’d been the one to design and create the newly optimized pyro brackets we all donned.  He flew with us, but in classic Curtis fashion chose to set the group up for even greater success. In the eleventh hour, the last jump, he chose to step back and only fly as a third camera to capture the magnificence and also hedge us a bit closer to record victory.

Image by Gustavo Cabana

This night would linger, not just in the records or the memories of those who witnessed it but in the very fabric of the universe, which had, for a moment, danced in harmony with the human spirit. We had touched the sublime by reaching for the stars and becoming them, if only for a fleeting moment. Like all devout believers, our faith is not held by a mile marker but by the continued journey ahead. We’re not done!

Saturday daylight came and the long calm. Even days prior to the event, we knew. The spirits in the heavens cast their challenge to us, a warning to us to heed the eminent transgression. Bold and fearless, though, we made a commitment regardless, and the brewing storm came to confront our feat. Still, though, the lingering. Unsure of the weather, the day aged like an elder star, far from burnout. 

Image by Gustavo Cabana

The evening also brought with it yet another trial. The melancholic weight was unavoidable, but the memory we cherish, a friend, a companion, an example, had passed, and that Saturday evening marked his memorial. Sitting next to the pond’s waters, an oasis in the desert, we cherished our fallen comrade’s memories and blue skies. An impeccable human, Cornelius van der Walt, had left us, and our small adjacent event was, in further essence, a tribute to him as he took his final ascent into the sky cast in a flame earlier that day.

Had the story unfolded differently, this impeccable example of a human being would have been with us on these records. He was present with us in the past, part of the family. In a small way, this event symbolizes a tribute to him. So we knew we were not done! We would fight again to push new records even further. 

Image by Nathan Roth

In the ways that only a great spirit could do, the essence of our friend pushed, and the skies paused their fury, the wind held back, and once again, the forty-two set off to blaze further into history. This new climb was not as a whole unit but as two mighty warriors prepared to stand side by side. We split the group to leverage the very best conditions of a ruleset for history. 

In the rulebook for skydiving world records, there is a condition by which two groups can attempt the same record on the same day, and both teams can earn the same record. If only one group completes the task, it is a typical record, but if both groups complete the same record on the same day, the record is shared. There is no other fitting way to consider this family. We live together, we fight together, we fly together. This is our sword, our destiny. We split not to become opponents but to be companions of impeccability. We are two halves of a being, but we are on the same side. 

Image by Benjamin Forde / FORDESIGN 

So, in this last night, an encore and reprisal to the victory of night fore, we committed once again to dawn the LED, to place the pyro upon ourselves, and to venture into the night sky. As the sun set into our last night together, we sought to rise into the sky with new goals to create a single shared sequential record. 

The door closed, the plane began to climb, and tension and excitement were high. In these moments, we could feel the apparition, the spirit of our departed friend, fighting to hold open the night sky. We traveled into the heights, crossing the threshold of two and a half miles. We donned the familiar tubes and let the oxygen begin to flow, trekking ever upward to our summit of 15,000 feet. 

Unfortunately, the sky’s temper pushed back and brought us to a descent. We rode the waves of the turbulent and angry sky until the moment, yet again, when our dear departed friend held us space. Then, in those final moments on the jump run, even having descended below 13,000 feet, we took poise, stood fast, and leaped yet again. 

Screenshot from Tommy Miller’s video

Our twin spirits were yet another plane ride behind us, but this window was closing. Being members of the first group, we leaped. The first point… Tension, anticipation, even in the blazing wind of almost 200 mph, the sweat was felt by all as the key was sent, and the eternity of those milliseconds ticked away in slow motion. Then, the second.

In the fleeting moments, as the impending break-off altitude approached, final ‘hail-Mary’, but alas, a third point was not in the stars for this night. The sky had pushed back. 

Image by Gustavo Cabana

Behind us, though, this second brilliant battalion was reaching its line. They leaped, fighting the same battle with ferocious fervor, yet the sky was closing in. In a brilliant attempt, this kindred twin sought the same goal: to share in the sequential victory, but this night had decided otherwise. 

I cannot use words to attest to what I had witnessed. The view was breathtaking on the ground, looking up at the second group following the path. Pictures will capture it differently. No video from the ground represents the majesty and magnitude. Not even anticipating this blessing, I inadvertently became witness to it. To watch from the ground was a moment in itself. Another first in skydiving was, finally, our feats were seen in real-time from the ground.

Image by Gustavo Cabana

It’s in this breathtaking view of the spectacle that even those of us who are predisposed to the experience through the act are still moved by its beauty. One group took a small step. The second group is still moving. Together, we are all moving, and the future is limitless. We are not defeated; we are only paused. 

We have pried open the night sky and marked our intention to continue to stride across it. Still, though, the taste is bittersweet for the small group of us that earned this second world record. While our comrades did not fall, we are a team, a people, a community, and these victories are meant to be shared together. 

The record-breaking team
Image by Gustavo Cabana

So, I tip my glass and allow the toast to spill partially to the ground. While some of us earned two world records on paper, we, the people’s records, only earned one and one-half on a path of many more steps to come.

In this tale of fire, sky, and the unyielding human spirit, the skydivers had not just traversed the heavens; they had woven their essence into the tapestry of the eternal, a reminder that within the human heart burns a light, undimmed by the vastness of the cosmos.

Image by Gustavo Cabana

Achievements – Two New World Records

  • 42-way Night Vertical World Record, set on 22 March 2024 (previous record, 14-way, Germany, 2021)
  • 21-way Night Vertical 2-point Sequential World Record, 23 March ’24
  • 10 nations  –  Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Germany, France, Finland, UAE, USA, Norway, and Turkey
  • 31% of the participants were female
  • This was the first time every jumper wore pyrotechnics on a record
  • Organizers Sara Curtis, Amy Chimmy, Matthew Fry, Steve Curtis and Konstantin Petrijcuk 
  • Photographers Gustavo Cabana, Nathan Roth and James Kunze

Thoughts from the organizers

Amy by Gustavo Cabana

“Max Pyro 2.0 was an extraordinary endeavor that pushed the boundaries of skydiving excellence. Witnessing the night sky ablaze with pyrotechnics as we soared in formation was an indescribable thrill. We’re thrilled to have made history and can’t wait to see what new heights we can reach in the future”

Amy Chmelecki
Sara by Gustavo Cabana

“Being part of the Max Pyro 2.0 team was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many of the people involved.. The dedication and skill of every participant, combined with the electrifying spectacle of synchronized pyrotechnics, made this achievement truly unforgettable. We’re already gearing up for our next challenge, eager to continue pushing the limits of what’s possible.”

Sara Curtis
Steve by Benjamin Forde / FORDESIGN 

“The most visually appealing jumps I’ve ever been on. I love that no one got cut.”

Steve Curtis
Kontantin by Gustavo Cabana

“MaxPyro wasn’t just a record, it was a stunt. It required maximum dedication from all the team members. We pushed our boundaries to max and it never compromised safety.  It was an exceptional experience being surrounded by highly trained professionals, doing what they do best in the dark, with fire! My friends are valiantly badass!!”

Konstantin Petrijcuk 
Matthew by Gustavo Cabana

“Max Pyro 2.0 was the culmination of months of preparation, teamwork, and sheer determination to finish what we started four years ago. Breaking the world record with such a diverse and talented group of individuals was incredibly rewarding. The only thing more satisfying than our accomplishment, is watching all the excited reports of UFOs in the sky over Arizona and knowing ‘that’s us!’.”

Matthew Fry

Read the “Aliens” coverage here

Videos

42-way Night Record

Max Pyro 2 – Night Head down record 42-way, set on 22 March 2024, at Skydive Arizona,
Video by Gustavo Cabana

Inside view by Tommy Miller

Outside video by James Kunze

21-way Sequential Record

Video by Nathan Roth

Video by Paulo

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Meet: Todd Neville Scrutchfield

AGE: 46
HOME DZ: Skydive Spaceland - Houston
YEARS ACTIVE: 15
JUMPS: 6,000 ish
NIGHT JUMPS: 63
BIO:
Just a subtly interesting weirdo somewhere on the spectrum, masquerading as a canopy pilot, occasionally moonlighting as a freeflyer.

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