Features | Dec 01, 2019
A Record Crowd—Skydive Perris Hosts the 2019 International Skydiving Hall of Fame Celebration

Doug Garr

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In October, the International Skydiving Museum & Hall of Fame held its 10th annual Hall of Fame Celebration at Skydive Perris in California. The event included the induction ceremony for the 10 newest honorees at a gala Saturday night dinner at nearby March Field Air Museum. It was perhaps poetic that the podium was situated under a replica of the Wright Flyer in a large venue that maxed out at just over 500 guests—a record turnout according to officials. Dozens of latecomers had to be turned away.

The museum feted the 10 new Hall of Famers and presented them with the traditional blue blazer that signifies the honor. The 2019 honorees are Irena Avbelj, Chuck Collingwood (posthumous), Kate Cooper-Jensen, Patrick de Gayardon (posthumous), Alan Eustace, John P. Higgins, Andy Keech, Tom Sanders, Deke Sonnichsen and John “Lofty” Thomas (posthumous). The incoming members of the 10th class of honorees—six from the U.S., one each from Great Britain, Canada, Australia and Slovenia—bring this exclusive group to a total of 73 outstanding representatives of parachuting achievement in a wide range of endeavors. (The July 2019 issue of Parachutist contains an article—“A Perfect 10”—that recounts the achievements of the inductees.) Thirty Hall of Famers attended this year’s ceremonies.

A half dozen special events took place during the three-day celebration, including a reprise of the popular 10-Way Speed Star Wars competition from last year’s event at Skydive City Zephyrhills in Florida. Seventeen teams—seven more than in the 2018 inaugural competition—competed in three rounds to see which team could build the designated formations most quickly using the USPA Nationals’ rules with no-show exits. Kate’s Club (with Hall of Famer Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld as captain) took first with a 48.78-second total. Derro’s (with Derek Thomas as captain) took second with 53.92 seconds, and Some Assembly Required (with Lisa Walker as captain) took third with 65.40 seconds. Gillian Rayner and Lee Schlichtemeier served as judges. Al Krueger, who captained one of the early successful 10-way teams, the Sky Pirates, served as honorary meet director.

The Hall of Fame celebration capped a busy week for Skydive Perris, which included a big-way formation skydiving record event, a classic accuracy meet and a canopy formation record event. On Friday, the first day of the Hall of Fame festivities, the CF event was ongoing with attempts at a night record. Although the night record was ultimately unsuccessful (primarily due to turbulent weather), the brightly lit canopy formations provided a spectacular light show for the museum crowd.

The weekend also included a special re-creation of the first 24-man star (before skydivers used the term “way” to make it genderless) that was completed over Perris on January 16, 1972. It was a significant achievement in its day, and millions saw the photo when it was published on a two-page spread in Life magazine. The completed re-created formation brought cheers from the onlookers. Four luminaries from the original jump were present: Rich Piccirilli was on the re-creation jump (he docked next to the base); Krueger, the honorary director of the 10-way meet, was in attendance; and Stan Troeller and Donna Wardean-Dann (the only woman on the record) narrated the jump for the assembled crowds.

The three-day celebration also included seminars with speakers as wide-ranging as USPA Northwest Regional Director Luke Aikins, who gained fame three years ago by making a spectacular televised leap from 25,000 feet without a parachute and landed into a 100-by-100-foot net, as well as this year’s Hall of Fame inductee, Alan Eustace, who broke the world’s high-altitude freefall record by jumping from more than 135,000 feet after being carried to altitude by a helium balloon while wearing a custom-made space suit (unlike the two other record holders, who used capsules for their ascents).

There was the traditional Gear Through the Years fashion show, which also included a display of a replica of Eustace’s space suit, and a number of book signings: Colonel Joe Kittinger, the Vietnam War fighter pilot and former record holder of the world’s highest skydive, signed “Come Up and Get Me”; Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld, the Perris DZ manager and world champion formation skydiver, signed “Above All Else”; photographers Mike McGowan (“Selections”) and Hall of Fame inductee Andy Keech (“Skies Call”) signed their photobooks; Melanie Curtis signed her life-coaching memoir “How to Fly”; and Hall of Famer and USPA Executive Director Emeritus Norman Heaton signed his weighty history of the sport, “My First 1,000 Jumps.”

Curt Curtis, the president and CEO of the museum, summed up the festivities by saying, “It was another absolutely terrific celebration weekend and induction dinner at Skydive Perris. When I stood at the podium and looked out over the 514 attendees and recited the accomplishments of the new members of the Hall, it became abundantly clear how special the people are who comprise our community. Quite simply, they are the best. This is an event not to be missed by any skydiver who cares about the history and legacy of our sport. The Conatser family [DZ owners] and the entire Skydive Perris staff gave us all a weekend to remember.”

The 2020 Hall of Fame event is scheduled for the weekend of October 8-10 at Skydive DeLand in Florida.


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