PHARAOHS CHALLENGE

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Th Great Pyramids of Giza close up, photographed by Juan Mayer, under canopy

The largest formations ever built over the Great Pyramids of Giza

I made my first contact with Skydive Pharaohs at the beginning of 2023, thanks to professional photographer Juan Mayer. Thus began the adventure that I called ‘Pharaohs’ Challenge’, the idea being to build the largest formations over Egypt, with 50 skydivers above the Pyramids of Giza! This would be the largest formation over Africa also.

The visuals of our first jump over the Pyramids were breathtaking
Image by Juan Mayer

Coming from Marseille, with my wife Yasmina (who did a lot of 4-way before having our daughters) and Jeff Ronzevalle (member of the French 8-way team in the 80s and 90s, then the Monaco team more recently) we arrive three days before the start of the event. I can’t wait to check the landing area, my main concern… safety first.

I had been told that the area was not very big for 50 people, and was also stony. We had booked a room by the Giza plateau where the pyramids of Cheops, Chephren and Mykerinos dominate. Arriving at Cairo airport in the middle of the night, we drive through the semi-busy city, not knowing if people are late going to bed, or if they are getting up before sunrise.

16 nationalities were represented at the Pharaohs Challenge 2023 including the Mexican Poncho Saavedra who flies over the pyramid of Mykerinos and the 3 Queens Pyramids. Beyond, after the pyramids, we can see a large landing zone.
Image by Juan Mayer

I throw myself on the bed, I sink.

At the semi-late hour of a morning coffee, I hurry to the rooftop where the hotel serves breakfast. The view hypnotizes me. From the front, the giant Sphynx beams 200 meters from me. Behind, the pyramids stand out in the panorama. It has been this way for over 4,500 years.

French skydiver Isabelle Dreyssé over the pyramid of Chephren which peaks at 136 meters
Image by Juan Mayer

Locating the area

Yasmina, Jeff and I walk the Giza plateau. We walk 10 km during the afternoon, lingering around the Pyramid of Chephren, next to which is the landing zone. It is large for landing in a small group, but not very reassuring for a 50-way. Yasmina, who hasn’t jumped for some time, tells me, “I’ll land there without any problem!” It reassures me. With his long experience, Jeff seems more skeptical about having more than 50 canopies converging on this area.

British skydiver Maddy Heath Kelly right over the top of Chephren’s pyramid. At the top of the picture, we can see the main landing area
Image by Juan Mayer

Concern pushes me to quickly draw up a plan before the evening meeting, where the participants will meet for a general briefing. Maximum safety will reside first in a staging and spreading of the canopies generated by a first break of the formation that is sufficiently high (1,900 meters), and then in a wide choice of alternative landing zones, which in time proved to be sufficient. Angelo Declerck, also present in Egypt with a group of ten people, approves the plan. He also spots a real boulevard for landings in complete safety, a five-minute walk from the main landing zone.

In the evening, around 80 participants gather in one of the vast conference rooms of the Grand Nile Tower. This is our 5-star hotel on the bank of the Nile, which as you can see from the top of its 41 floors, stands in the heart of Cairo. The Skydive Pharaohs team immediately shows itself to be very efficient. The three days of jumps seem to be planned exactly as desired, by the most demanding skydivers who like this type of challenging adventure. Mohamed Hesham, Skydive Pharaohs’ main contact, will demonstrate unwavering efficiency on all levels and throughout the event. The skydiver package is 6 Hercules C-130 jumps, 5 nights at the Grand Nile Tower, and all bus transfers.

The Hercules C-130 jumpship, and participants
Image by Juan Mayer

Day 1

We leave the hotel before dawn with two buses. Two thirds of the jumpers had not yet seen the landing area. This first reconnaissance is essential for our safety. The day before, large installations had been set up around the landing area, demarcated by dozens of windblades and advertising panels. We would say later that we had the feeling of being on a real drop zone. We now have an hour before getting back on the bus to head up to the military zone of Cairo airport where the C-130 is waiting for us.

Even loading the C-130 is exciting
Image by Juan Mayer

Angelo and I take the group to every possible landing zone. They are varied; some stony and others with fewer rocks, some closer, some farther away. I hear positive comments, which reassures me. When I ask the group how many people will land at the main landing area, less than thirty people consider it. It’s perfect; the spacing of the landings will be orchestrated naturally, thanks to the initiative of these experienced jumpers.

A briefing about possible dropping spots is also required. It is simply summed up: if we fall vertically near the outskirts of Cairo, the break-off will be higher. As for a run-in that takes too long, so we are over Cairo, that is unthinkable. It’s impossible to land there safely. Consequently, a second pass is planned in order to avoid the risks of a spot too deep for Angelo’s group and the few jumpers after him.

As spotter of the Hercules C-130, Mohamed Hesham is one of the very active representatives of Skydive Pharaohs, the organizing team of the event
Image by Juan Mayer

In my group of 50, around twenty people have never jumped from a Hercules C-130. But this jump is a first for everyone. Never has a large formation flown over the Giza plateau and landed at the foot of the pyramids. During the climb, excitement mixes with some pressure. I hope that this largest formation in Egypt and above the African continent will come true on the first attempt. The level of the team would allow it. But in these kind of circumstances, all it takes is one detail to thwart the plans.

Herc exit
Image by Juan Mayer

The divers haven’t jumped out of a C-130 for a long time; they are cautious, attentive and dock on time. A floater experiences mild effects of hypoxia. We were flying at almost 5,000 meters without oxygen on board, with a rather long jump run. The floater docks in the formation at the wrong place. The formation is complete with 50 but with one missing grip. 

What an adrenaline rush this first jump! What a vision drifting above the Giza plateau, and what a spectacle under canopy as we approach the pyramids! 

It is on the second jump that we achieve the record, when the rays of the already-low sun stretch the shadows of the pyramids. It’s 4 pm, sunset is at five.

Record of Egypt and Africa with this 50-way formation over the Giza plateau, with the pyramid of Chephren in the center
Image by Juan Mayer

Day 2

All excited to do it again!… Launching from the ramp of the Hercules… Flying above the pyramids… A new jump is planned, a two-point sequence. The divers are now sharp, the first formation builds quicker than the day before. It flies well, but one of us is below… pffff… Cheops must be rolling over in his sarcophagus. Once again, the wonder under canopy, broad smiles when landed, sparkling eyes.

Image by Juan Mayer

Our DZ is agitated. Rows of gilt chairs are set up. Ministers and officials from the ministries of tourism, youth and sports are expected for our second jump. We flirt with the 5,000 meters again, without individual oxygen, just a bottle in the back to dispense a few puffs. The run jump is a little long; hypoxia comes slowly for some, numbness in the ends of the fingers, butterflies in the eyes. We leave on time. The experienced skydivers that we are know how to manage these effects, if they are not too invasive.

The 50-way is next to Cairo, so breakoff is a little higher
Image by Juan Mayer

The first formation completes quite quickly. Before giving the key for the second point, I take a look at the ground. We fall vertically next to the city, so I prefer to break higher, at 2,100 meters. No second point, but a hell of a canopy flight back to the pyramids. On the ground, enthusiasm radiates, the officials applaud and participate in our briefing. Our eyes widen, we bathe in happiness. For dinner, the organization surprises us with a dinner cruise on the Nile… a delicious moment.

Day 3

First point 50-way over Chephren’s Pyramid
Image by Juan Mayer

I would like us to make a completely open 50-way formation so that Juan Mayer, our cameraman-photographer, puts Chephren’s Pyramid in the center, so that it appears quite large in the middle of the 50-way. Consequently, the photo must be taken below 2,000 meters. To do this, a 6-pointed star is provided as the second point.

For our first jump of the day, the clouds on the jump run force the spotter to request a second pass at the end of which the Giza plateau is still not clear. Hypoxia lurks again. I ask that the Hercules descend into less hostile layers, at 4,500 meters. We end up going back down, the drop zone remaining covered. An hour of waiting at Cairo West Air Base, a strategic location for the Egyptian army at the edge of the desert. Fighter jets, C-130s and other aeronautical jewels are clearly operational, although life in Egypt and its tourist flow do not shudder in view of the boiling situation beyond Rafah.

We are behind schedule but we make it happen. A smoothly building 50-way, then the 6-pointed star opens vertically from the pyramids. 

Second point of the sixth and last 50-way jump named the Grand Finale – an open 6-pointed star standing out against the ocher ground of the Giza plateau before sunset.
Image by Juan Mayer

We have little time left for the last jump of the event. We go for the same jump which allows us to open our star a second time. It is even more beautiful, taking shape on the ocher soil of the Giza plateau before the sunset. In its center, the Pyramid of Chephren glows with golden light from the evening rays of the sun.

We meet again, we hug after this last fabulous jump, already nostalgic at the idea of leaving this warm group and this pharaonic place which had fascinated us for a few days.

Last 50-way jump; break off and last moments of freefall for the center people who meet in a 18-way star with Chephren’s pyramid in the middle
Image by Juan Mayer

After one or two days of visiting places steeped in history in Cairo and nearby, we leave Egypt, fulfilled, charmed, our hearts swollen with emotions.

Pharaoh’s Challenge 2023

50-way Record

50-way Record – the largest formation in Egypt ever, and also in Africa, organized by Patrick Passe on November 16, 2023.

All photos by Juan Mayer Photography


Pharaohs Challenge 2024

Pharaohs Challenge 2024 is already planned for the first half of November. The exact dates will be communicated shortly. If you are interested, contact patrickpasse@free.fr

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Meet: Patrick Passe

46 years in skydiving. More than 20,000 jumps. Has been always invested in many aspects and disciplines of the sport. Organiser of large formation events. 17 world records.

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