A Night of Bait-and-Switch
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Friday, May 24, 2024
A Night of Bait-and-Switch

A Night of Bait-and-Switch

Tales from the Bonfire
Tuesday, February 13, 2024

A flying Elvis demo jump into a baseball stadium? Sounded like a great demo to me! I was contacted in July of 1999 by an out-of-town promoter who arranged for local jumpers to do demos into events dressed in Elvis outfits. So, I called on three trusted PRO-rated jumping buddies and we were all set. But when I met the promoter on the day of the jump, he threw me the first of several curveballs I would face that day. “Well, I am having a little problem with The Flying Elvi,” he said, speaking about the only demo team licensed by Elvis Presley Enterprises to make skydiving demos in Elvis costumes. “So I went to the local costume shop and found three Revolutionary War costumes—they didn’t have a fourth. So now you guys will be jumping as Paul Revere and the Raiders, and one Elvis.” The part about one Elvis was sort of under his breath, as if he was afraid someone was listening. I thought, “Oh, this is going to be great!” This was the first bait-and-switch of the night.

We wired up the Revolutionary War soldier costumes with the lights, looked over the stadium grounds and headed off to the local airport for the first of two jumps. The first jump was made in daylight without the costumes, just before the start of the baseball game. Sitting at the local airport, a King Air landed as our jump plane instead of the expected Cessna 182. This was bait-and-switch number two! “Hey, we brought the King Air for you at no extra charge!” the aircraft owner said. I really preferred the 182 for demo jumps, but OK, here we go! The first jump into the stadium went well, and we hurried back to the airport to pack parachutes, change into the lighted costumes and wait for the call to take off for the nighttime jump during the seventh inning stretch.

And we waited, and waited, and waited some more. The visiting team was apparently putting on a batting exhibition and slaughtering the minor-league Richmond Braves. So the game was running on forever due to the opposing team’s long sessions at bat. We finally got the call to take off at 11 p.m. It was a short flight due south to the stadium. I looked out of the windshield of the King Air and located the stadium, knowing they would be killing the lights soon (so the lighted suits would be easier for the crowd to spot) and the stadium would be harder to find. I went back to the jump door on the left side of the plane and stuck my head out, looking for the stadium to come into view. And I looked, and looked, and looked, until I was sure that so much time had passed that we must have flown past it. I was getting nervous because the timing of the jump was critical. I pulled back inside the airplane, and we found the stadium far to the right of jump run. The winds had picked up blowing much stronger out of the west than earlier, and as a result the King Air had crabbed away from the stadium by about two miles. That was bait-and-switch number three, because the wind forecast was nowhere near correct. I told the pilot to turn 90 degrees right in a westward direction toward the stadium as our call to exit came in over the radio. As we neared the stadium, I made a bone-headed decision to tell the pilot to turn 90 degrees right toward the north and cut for the exit. To this day I have no idea why I decided to turn the plane north, but apparently my spotting was already in the toilet at that point, anyway. I know it was bad because of the look I got from Carey Whitley when he got to the door to exit first, and he looked at me with a “You idiot!” look on his face, then he jumped. Chris Barbie was out second, and I followed Chris as the final Paul Revere costume jumper. Oscar Oczkowski was last out as Elvis (I asked him to jump as Elvis because he was a big fan). So, there he was, last out on a crappy spot over downtown Richmond, Virginia, in a lighted Elvis suit.

I looked down after opening and found myself probably a mile northeast of the stadium, mostly fighting the wind to fly toward it. I looked behind me and noticed a large, lighted parking lot that I could run to if necessary. I could see Chris just ahead of me, and he was flying toward the stadium, too. Carey was close enough he could have lifted his legs to clear the stadium wall, but he elected to land in the parking lot. Looking down, I could see streetlights appearing and disappearing, and I realized it was a residential neighborhood with lots of trees that intermittently blocked out the streetlights as I flew overhead. Not a great place for a night landing. Ahead of me I had a tree-covered neighborhood, a very busy I-95 interstate, a well-lit building with a large parking lot, then the stadium that was obviously too far to reach. I determined I could clear the interstate and should reach the lighted parking lot, so I continued in that direction. Chris and I landed there after passing over I-95 at 200 feet. It turned out to be a fully chain-link fenced distribution center for the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control agency. We were able to squeeze out of the gate and break out. Oscar decided to land in the large, lighted parking lot that I had noticed just after opening. So, in his lighted Elvis suit and wig, he swoops in out of the darkness right next to a couple of parked cars with some young men hanging around in the warm summer night, never expecting to experience an Elvis sighting. He turns around to face them and in his best Elvis impersonation he says “Hey, can you cats give me a ride?”

It was not my greatest moment, but we still got paid for the jump. And it has given us a story that continues to make us laugh almost 25 years later. Thank you, thank you very much!

Jim Crouch | D-16979
Wesley Chapel, Florida

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