Parachutists set four skydiving records over Tecumseh

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A group of 29 parachutists set a state record by flying into formation over Tecumseh. Photo submitted.

Records are meant to be broken and that’s exactly what a group of experienced local skydivers did over the summer solstice weekend.

Four state skydiving records were set at Skydive Tecumseh during the weekend of June 21-22, with the first taking four attempts before completion.

The Michigan skydivers first set a record in Tecumseh for the largest formation of skydivers over the age of 40. The group, known nationally as POPS (Parachutists Over Phorty), built a 29-person formation and held it for five seconds to set the new record. But the record didn’t come easy. It took four attempts for the group to get it right and hook up for the record.

Most of the skydivers jump in Tecumseh regularly. Local skydivers on the record-breaking jump included Tecumseh residents Dale Maddox, Ronda Cheever, Ron Poore, Doug Eggleston, Darren Johnson, Franz Gerschwiler, owner of Skydive Tecumseh, and Bob Harris of Clinton.

Maddox organized the event.

“He travels all over the United States to do records for California and Arizona and Florida, the biggest and the longest,” said Maddox’s wife, Ronda Cheever. “I like the smaller stuff.”

Cheever said that the first record hadn’t been attempted in Tecumseh for at least 10 years. Two planes were needed for the record jump due to the number of jumpers participating in the event. Skydive Tecumseh’s regular plane is a Black Hawk Grand Caravan and the other plane, brought in from Chicago, was a Twin Otter. Nineteen of the jumpers rode in the Otter to 14,000 feet and ten jumpers were in the Caravan. The planes flew in formation all the way to 14,000 feet when the skydivers exited the planes and built the record-breaking formation. The previous record was a 22-person formation.

“It was a lot of fun,” Cheever said of the jump. “It’s not scary. We planned it on the ground.

“It was exhilarating. You see people coming out of two airplanes and my husband’s the baseline of flight and everyone’s flying to him into their slot. So you see all these bodies very controlled flying down, stopping, picking up the grips and then flying smoothly, so your not rocking the formation. It’s really an awful lot of fun.”

Maddox set up the formation so all the divers had a specific location and position to be in to set the record. From the time the jumpers left the plane, they had approximately one minute to get into formation, while dropping at 120 miles per hour.

“You’re going pretty fast,” said Cheever. “So you’ve got to be careful you don’t hit people because you could hurt them... We’re all old people. We’re safe and we’re careful.”

On the first and second attempts one person was out of position and the third try didn’t work out at all.

“It was just a soup sandwich,” Cheever said of the third attempt. “You’ve got to have some precision but it just didn’t happen.”

The group lost one person after the third attempt because they couldn’t stay any longer, making the fourth attempt a 29-person formation.

All of the divers have extensive experience. The most jumps by a member of the group is 14,000 plus while the fewest is 358. Cheever has 3,395 jumps to her credit.

“I’ve been jumping for a long time at Tecumseh,” she said. “This is the first record I’ve got in Michigan with this particular group. It was a lot of fun.”

The following day, Sunday, June 22, another group of skydivers over the age of 60 set two records. The group, known as Skydivers Over Sixty (SOS), set the state record for the largest formation with 11 skydivers flying together. On the same jump, they transitioned to a second formation, called a point, which set another record.

Cheever, Maddox and Harris were also members of that record setting group.

Also on Sunday, two jumpers over the age of 70, set a record by building a two-person formation. The group, known as JOS (Jumpers Over Seventy), consists of skydivers Larry Ekstrom and Doug Coleman.

“We had never had two jumpers over 70 link up,” said Cheever.

Next year, around the summer solstice, the POPS group plans on doing it again and hopes to break its own record. Cheever said the event is planned around the summer solstice because it’s the most daylight available for jumping during the year.

“We had 15 hours of skydiving that day,” Cheever said. “We had wheels up at 5:45 and they exited at 5:55, which is legal sunrise.

“We intend to break that record next year,” Cheever added. “Records are made to be broken, right?”

The record setting jumpers from the first dive included: Eggleston (1,293 jumps), Keith Rehmel (1,563), Larry Ekstrom (13,873), Ed Wettlaufer (399), Kim Kanat (650), Steve Kanat (1,750), Mike Crow (4,535), Johnson (11,000), Larry Stein (4,229), Gerschwiler (3,300), Mike Reed (2,038), Marty McDonald (1,355), Maddox (6,020), Todd Molter (4,500), Margaret Crouch (1,327), Stew Elder, Rick Fitzpatrick (358), Terry Curtis (2,827), Poore, Cheever (3,395), Linda Manges (933), Tom Ruprecht (1,003), Cliff Alfichie (14,000), Gary Wilkinson, Pat Solar (9,000), Ron O’Brien, Mathias Reimann (2,559), Harris (6,500) and Mike Nestor (4,000).

Additional photos, and a video of the Summer Solstice skydiving events, can be seen on Skydive Tecumseh’s Facebook page.




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