“Some said it couldn’t be done, others said it shouldn’t be done.
But on September 19th, 2008, an international group of skydivers set out to show the world that with hard work, determination, respect for the extreme environment of Mount Everest and the will to succeed, that the seemingly impossible can be made possible.
This is their story, this is:
The Arrival of the Skydive Everest Team
The Skydive Everest team arrived in Katmandu, Nepal for it’s first group meeting on Friday evening, September 19th, 2008.
Nigel Gifford the founder of High and Wild, UK, the company behind Skydive Everest, had personally assembled the team, and energy was high as everyone met for the first time.
Skydiving operations would be handled by Dave Wood, who had recently retired from the British Royal Air Force after 32 years as a military parachute instructor, where among other disciplines, he specialized in high altitude skydives.
Tandem Instructors Ralph Mitchell (UK), Steve Hennessy (AUS) and Tom Noonan (USA) formed an international team of tandem instructors for the high altitude, oxygen assisted skydives.
World Skydiving Champions in multi disciplines "Omar Alhegelan and Wendy Smith" rounded out the jump staff as the events Aerial Cameramen and Jump Masters.
Dr. Ryan Jackson, an ER doctor with a background mountaineering and skydiver would be the expedition’s medical officer, and Mark Finch would be in charge of the packing mat.
British balloonist and engineer Andy Elson would round out the team as the lead O2 specialist.
The following two days were spent in Katmandu, where local Nepalese adventure outfitter, Rajan Dulal made last minute alterations to jumpsuits and trekking equipment and the staff inspected and tested all of the jump gear and oxygen systems.
When High and Wild, UK’s founder Nigel Gifford set out to secure gear for the First Ever Everest Skydives, he turned to Strong Enteprises for tandem gear and to Sunpath/Perfiormance Design for solo equipment.
Strong Enterprises Dual Hawk tandem system had already earned a reputation as a rugged workhorse in the high altitude conditions of Swiss Boogie’s day to day operations, and with the addition of bail out oxygen systems being used, the Military Dual Hawk was selected for the Everest event.
Canopies opening at 18,5000ft MSL would require as a large a parachute as possible, and the SET-400 would prove to be the perfect match for the conditions.
For solo jumping Derek Thomas personally delivered a set of custom built Skydive Everest Javelin containers outfitted with Performance Designs Navigator 260s and Navigator 280s.
Jumpsuits were provided by Rajan Dulal and they consisted of an outer layer of 0-3 cfm parachute fabric (commonly known as F-111) with a full body fleece liner sewn inside.
Hard helmets were provided by Gecko and the bail out oxygen systems were custom built by Summit Oxygen systems for this expedition.
Getting there was half the battle:
Once the team was briefed and the gear was inspected, the process began of transporting staff and gear to the world’s highest dropzone in Syangboche, Nepal at 12,500ft.
Everything that would be needed from the solo and tandem systems to the oxygen systems, would all have to be shipped in lightweight blue barrels from Explore Himalaya’s Katmandu office to the remote airstrip at the Phinjo Lodge.
Both the staff and the equipment began the journey at the Katmandu domestic air terminal where Dornier 228 Turboprop aircraft would make the 45 minute flight into the Himlayas landing at Lukla airfield, 9000ft MSL. Once staff and gear had arrived in Lukla, the trek to the airfield began.
The first day consisted of a half day trek from 9000ft, down to 8400ft to the small mountside village of Phakding.
The following day a fill day trek to the village of Namche Bazar, a staging point for many trekkers, was made to 11,400ft.
The team spent the following day in Namche Bazar acclimating to the lower oxygen levels of such a high altitude. Once the team felt fit at 11,400ft, the following morning was spent trekking to Syangboche, where the team would live for the duration of the Skydive Everest event at 13,000ft MSL.
On the way up to the lodge, the Syangboche airfield was passed at 12500ft MSL. When the team finally checked into the lodge, exhaustion was overcome by excitement, as the reality of the event had finally set in; THEY WERE THERE TO SKYDIVE MOUNT EVEREST.
While the staff made it’s trek and acclimated to the altitudes, their gear was being transported by a team of sherpas and for the heavy loads, by yaks.
There was a constant flow of sherpas and yaks up and down the steep mountainside trails each day, bringing everything the team would need, from their parachutes to bottled water, up to the airfield for the event. Without the teams of sherpas working with Skydive Everest, the event would not be possible.
Setting up the Dropzone:
The Syanboche Airfield is one of the world’s highest airfields at 12,600ft AGL. The airfield is a rough grass strip just over 1000ft long, with a 2000ft + drop off at the end of the runway, making it less than ideal for most aircraft to access. The Pilatus Porter however, was right at home with it’s rugged landing gear and short take off capabilities.
Pilots Henri Schurch and Ruedi Isenschmid ferried the famous bringt red and yellow Swiss Boogie Pilatus Porter some 40 hours into Nepal for the event.
Reudi Isenschimd with extensive flight time as a commercial pilot for Swiss Air as well as a Swiss Boogie jump pilot, would fly the Skydive Everest loads throughout the event.
Prior to the Pilatus Porter arriving, the Skydive Everest staff spent the final days prior to jumping re-inspecting the transported gear, setting up the dropzone equipment and rehearsing
gear fit ups including the oxygen systems. At 12,500ft MSL, conservation of energy was considered critical to peak performance, so seemingly simple tasks such as equipment donning and gear transportation to the aircraft were rehearsed to ensure that during jump operations, minimal exertion would be needed to ensure optimum physical conditioning during the skydives.
Ready, set. SKYDIVE EVEREST!
On Friday October 3rd, 2008, the first series of solo familiarization jumps were made by the staff of Skydive Everest to get a feel for the differences in air density at 18,500ft (exit), 17,500ft (opening) and l2,500ft MSL (landing). Soft openings and stand up landings were the measure of the day, as despite the faster canopy speeds due to the lower air pressure, the canopies performed exceptionally well. “Swooping 280s on a straight in approach” were the landings of the day.
The following day, Saturday October 4th, 2008, acclimation tandems were made from 22,000ft MSL. Tandem Instructor Tom Noonan, passenger High and Wild, UK publicist Lucie Fentol and aerial videographer Wendy Smith took part in the first of three tandem jumps in Nepal at 22,000ft MSL. Again, soft openings were the measure of the day, and while slide in landings were elected due to zero winds and some speed on landing, the SET 400 performed as expected, and was the stable, predictable platform it was expected to be.
In addition to the first tandems in Nepal made on this day, another “first” was accomplished as Nima Tamang, the head of sherpa coordination, became the first Nepalese citizen to skydive with tandem instructor Steve Hennessey.
By day three of jump operations, the team had settled into a consistent routine. Awake by 4:30am, a pre dawn decent to the airfield with head lamps and glow sticks followed by rigorous gear inspections and preflights as the sun arose over the airfield. Solo and tandem clients would make their way to the airfield in groups and solo and tandem jumps would commence throughout the day until the inevitable late morning, early afternoon cloud layer would roll in and shut down the operation.
Typically three lifts a day could be accomplished prior to being weathered out.
The coveted “first solo” and “first tandem” slots from 29,500ft were made by Neil Jones (Canada) and Holly Budge (UK) Wendy Smith (cameraman :NZ) as solos, and Per Wimmer (Denmark) in tandem with tandem instructor Ralph Mitchell (UK) and Wendy Smith again on Cameran, making the first ever tandem skydive “above” Mount Everest at 29,500ft AGL.
The experience that was Mount Everest started in the climb of the Pilatus Porter at around18,000ft, MSL. To the untrained eye, every peak could have been Mount Everest, as there are a number of peaks in close proximity along the Himalaya chain. From take off to 18,000ft MSL, the Porter flew a tight left hand pattern along the ridges of the ajoining mountain range.
As it climbed passed 18,000ft MSL Everest became clearly visible for the first time. An ominous moonlith of stone and snow in the distance. As the plane climbed higher and higher, Mount Everest grew larger and larger.
By 27,000ft, the Porter was passing within a ½ mile of the peak and that is where for most, the reality of the event began to sink in, I AM HERE. THIS IS EVEREST.
Once final pass of the peak at 29,500ft with the peak less than a ½ mile off the right wing tip set up jump run which ran 6 miles to the Syangboche dropzone.
For the tandem instructors, the first experience of opening the door and looking past the wingtip, DOWN onto Everest peak, was a moment that will not soon be forgotten.
With the Porter flying jump run along side Everest, it was a surreal experience between the red light and exit, where tandem pairs sat in the door, suspended in time and space, staring out over MOUNT EVEREST. Exits were smooth and and droguefall incredibly stable if not faster (150mph) than sea level tandems.
Flat packs were used to slow the openings for tandem jumps and the process worked with consistent soft openings as the result.
Whether a tandem instructor, passenger or solo jumper, the concensus was that seeing the peak of Mount Everest while in freefall, was the defining moment of the trip.
It took a tremendous amount of hard work and effort to get to that point and the reward for all that work was a view in freefall unsurpassed anywhere else on the planet: MOUNT EVEREST.
When canopies opened, there was no rush to land first, whether tandem or solo, it appeared that everyone under canopy attempted to stay aloft as long as possible and enjoy the view of Mount Everest from the serenity of their canopy descents.
After 8 days of jumping at the world’s most scenic dropzone, 41 skydivers (solo and tandem), made a total of 72 skydives during the First Ever Everest Skydive Expedition.
Through out the entire event, safety was emphasized above all else and as a team, the Skydive Everest staff did everything within it’s power to provide safe, scenic and record setting skydives.
The only injury of the event occurred when a solo jumper landed off the Syangboche dropzone due to a quick escalation of cloud cover forming over the airfield.
The jumper broke an ankle on landing, but was quickly tended to by Dr. Ryan Jackson and along with a team of skydivers and sherpas, the jumper was brought down to the airfield and brought by the Swiss Boogie Pilatus Porter back to Katmandu to ensure prompt medical attention was provided.
In the end, it was an amzing experience to see staff members and clients from all over the world converge in Nepal unified in a singular goal, to skydive Everest.
The beauty of the Nepalese culture, the friendships made amongst the staff and clients and the natural beauty of the scenery unlike any other skydiving event before it, SKYDIVE EVEREST captured the true essence of our sport: community awareness, skydiver unity and reaching new heights together as a team.
Thanks to Nigel Gifford of High and Wild, UK, Ted Strong, Strong Enterprises, Derek Thomas from Sunpath and Explore Himalaya, Skydive Everest showed the outside world that when the right people and the right gear are combined, the top of the world is quite literally within reach.
Global Angels Charity organisation raised $300.000 dollars (with founder Molly Bedingfeild making the jump) for the children of the the Himalaya and Asia, which is know an ongoing charity event, in place for this years expedtion, www.everest-skydive.com with a goal of $ One Million dollars for the further education of children in Asia....
www.globalangels.org Where you can earn your "wings" and become a member of our elite flying academy.
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Everest Skydive 2009 is set to break new world records with a world class team of experts at your side.
After the clients had completed their jump programs and returned to their homelands, the staff of Skydive Everest stayed behind at the Syangboche airfield to breakdown the dropzone and prepare the gear for it’s return trip back to Katmandu. On thier last evening in the Himalayas, the team was treated to a quiet dinner at the Everest View Hotel where beside a roaring fire, Ian “Bish” Bishop, one of the event organizers raised his glass to the team and said:
“There are very few “firsts” left in the world, and thanks to you all, there is now one less.” Cheers to that Bish.
Join us for the adventure of a life time.
October 2009 Everest Skydive. Everest Skydive 2009 European Event Organizer - Wendy Smith (www.wendysmithaerial.com )