|300-Way Record Attempts Review|
by Jack Cunniff
I was there, at Skydive Chicago, for the record attempts. I had been on the 246-way, and had been looking forward to participating in another camp. If you haven't been to Skydive Chicago, and you can get there, you should - it's world-class, all the way, a wonderful facility, with friendly people, and a nice bunch of planes!
I know that some people will probably accuse me of drinking too much Kool-Aid, but the fact is, Roger Nelson just wanted to help us get a new world record. He's not in it for ego, he's not in it for money, he put this event on because he wanted to help each of us become world record holders. I can't tell you why more high-end people didn't sign up, but I truly believe that there were no skydivers on this camp who shouldn't have been - each was qualified to be there, and I was happy to jump with them.
You should have been there to feel the intensity of the participants, everyone there at the beginning of the camp truly believed that we were going to be setting a record. But it was more than that - it was the understanding that we'd each grow in skills, in awareness, and in trust of each other. In achieving these things, we couldn't help but set a new record, along the way.
There was discipline every step of the way. We laid the formation down in the grass more times than I could count, in full gear, weights included. People showed up on time, paid attention in dirt dives and in team meetings, and did everything each individual could to be a fully-contributing member of a team. Everyone who could improve the formation was called upon to do so. We put on more weights, we changed slots, we changed planes. The team captains kept everyone informed, and frequently solicited input from each team member.
We had the best weather we could ask for, and a fleet of planes that truly took our breath away: Six Casas and six Super Otters! Every contingency had been considered, each backup had been identified and located. Again, you couldn't have asked for a better infrastructure upon which to build this record.
And yet, we had problems. Fall rate may have contributed - but this base was incredibly fast - you couldn't go below it unless you were taken out early - which happened all too frequently. "Slow is smooth, smooth is fast" that's the big-way mantra. But people rushed, and didn't trust themselves, and ultimately, well, got in each other's way and prevented the inner 60-way base from forming successfully 21 out of 22 times. The ax came out, changes were made, more talent came in as the week progressed.
We had faith.
We failed to set the record, and one man died. Another is in the hospital, I hope he recovers smoothly. My heart goes out to their families and to everyone at Skydive Chicago. You've lost a brother. Big-ways like this are dangerous, but risks can be managed. We can get hurt as easily in four-ways or smaller. The Reaper is out there, and ultimately each of us will lose our race with him.
I'll think twice about being in another big way. And yet, I think that today, a day after this tragedy, I'd still sign up to participate on a team to set the next world record. It's who I am. I'm just writing this story, so that you might know what was in the heart, and mind of a skydiver who was there. Blue skies!