Features | Aug 01, 2018
The Warm Embrace Of Thailand

Jim McCormick

Thailand is magical. It deserves to be referred to as the “Land of Smiles.” Anyone who has been there will tell you it’s unforgettable. The air is warm and damp. Transitioning to the outdoors from an air-conditioned space feels like a warm embrace.

For many years, skydivers from around the world gathered in Thailand for memorable events. Three large-formation world records occurred in Thailand. The appeal was always the same: beautiful settings, the lovely Thai people and large military aircraft for jumping.

But the nearly annual treks to Thailand for skydivers from throughout the world have not occurred for many years. Transitions in Thailand resulted in the fading of connections that made those amazing experiences possible … until now.

Tireless efforts over many years by Texas organizer Larry Henderson bore fruit. Having resided in Thailand, Henderson’s knowledge of Thai culture and his fluency in the language facilitated a constructive relationship with Royal Thai Army Colonel Piyasak Saitanu. The result was an extraordinary event in Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand.

Prachuap is a charming seaside fishing village of 27,000 about 180 miles south of the Thai capital of Bangkok. It is the location of a Royal Thai Air Force base that fronts on the Gulf of Thailand and includes two long runways and plenty of open area for a temporary drop zone.

On May 27, 60 skydivers from 16 countries boarded buses in Bangkok for the four-hour trip to Prachuap. It soon became apparent that the Royal Thai Army was committed to doing all it could to make the event a success. The team’s small convoy of buses and cargo trucks had a police escort as it headed south. The group made its first stop at a spectacular Buddhist temple where it was accompanied by a knowledgeable and gregarious guide. The jumpers even found dinner waiting for them at an open-air roadside restaurant halfway to their destination.

In addition to being safe and fun, the event had two primary goals: The first was to honor the event hosts by building a formation that replicated the flag of Thailand. The second was to build a formation in the shape of an “X,” the Roman numeral 10, as a tribute to the new King of Thailand who as the 10th monarch of the Chakri dynasty is identified as Rama X.

On the first of the five days of jumping, the team received custom jumpsuits in a vivid orange color associated with the Special Warfare Command of the Royal Thai Army. The next treat was seeing the spectacular new CASA C-295 twin-turboprop military transport plane majestically taxi toward the expectant team and watching the wide tailgate gradually lower before the loadmaster waved them aboard. The beautiful aircraft could carry more than 50 jumpers, allowing large formations to build from only 14,500 feet.

On day one, the team divided into two groups for warm-up jumps that provided opportunities to get used to the aircraft, the setting and the new jumpsuits. The evening featured an elegant dinner and stage extravaganza presented by the team’s Thai hosts. The show included both traditional and modern song, dance and instruments and sent a clear message that the team was welcomed and valued.

On the second day, the effort to build the flag of Thailand formation began. Extensive dirt diving under the direction of event staff—Henderson, Herman Landsman and B.J. Worth—commenced so that all jumpers were in slots for which they were suited while creating the five-stripe pattern of the flag. After morning rain abated, the team made two attempts at the flag.

The third day, the sun rose over the Gulf of Thailand to start a beautiful day. After four attempts, some changes and a rearrangement of slots, the 48-way flag of Thailand formation flew beautifully with the ocean and near-shore islands serving as a lovely background. Event videographers Bruno Brokken and Zach Lewis captured the moment perfectly. The event hosts were thrilled with the quick success. Their happiness was magnified by the presence of members of the Royal Thai Army Special Forces on the jump. Colonel Saitanu was the team’s primary contact with the Special Warfare Command. He worked tirelessly to make the event a success and was also on all of the team’s successful jumps.

No time was lost as the team donned their new orange jumpsuits that proudly displayed the Thai flag and the unit crest of the Royal Thai Army Special Warfare Command. The event-organizing committee—Fernando Gallegos, David Loncasty, Joost Luysterburg and Jim McCormick—set about their tasks of supporting the event staff. Two attempts at the Roman numeral followed before the day of jumping ended.

As happened each evening, the village of Prachuap welcomed the members of the team in its seaside restaurants and night market. Tuk-tuks (motorized rickshaws) and rented motorbikes transported the team to their evening destinations of choice to enjoy the famous Thai hospitality.

The fourth and final jump on day four resulted in an elegant formation of the Roman numeral 10 set over the forested green tip of a mountainous peninsula projecting from the airbase into the ocean and adorned on its summit with a Buddhist temple. The team achieved all the goals of the event: the two signature formations, no injuries and lots of fun.

The event concluded on the fifth day with an immense honor. The team assembled in their matching orange jumpsuits in alphabetical order in front of a stage complete with a custom backdrop and bunting. Five Thai generals and admirals in full dress uniforms congratulated the team on its success. The commanding officer of the Royal Thai Army Special Warfare Command General Sunai Praphuchanay then presented each member of the team with honorary Royal Thai Army jump wings identical to those worn on their dress uniforms.

The team received the warm embrace of Thailand and returned it. As the backdrop for the closing ceremony stated, “We are family.”

About the Author

Jim McCormick, D-12379, is a Colorado skydiver, author and organizational consultant. He has earned numerous state, national and world large-formation records. Jim is also the Director of Development for the International Skydiving Museum & Hall of Fame.

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