Rookie Organizer Leads Head-Down State Record Team
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Sunday, June 16, 2024
Rookie Organizer Leads Head-Down State Record Team

Rookie Organizer Leads Head-Down State Record Team

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Jumpers fly the record-setting formation over Kapowsin Air Sports. Photo by Jeffry Johnson.

Thirty-three skydivers set the Washington Record for Largest Head-Down Formation Skydive over the hazy skies of Kapowsin Air Sports in Shelton. Faced with challenges—including a 99-degree Fahrenheit heat wave and mechanical problems with the primary aircraft, a Twin Otter—organizer Sriraj Rajaram managed a change of plans. With help from fellow organizers Cat Harper and Larry Yount, he narrowed down the original 38 participants to accommodate the impromptu reduction in lift capacity. This required Yount, a veteran organizer, to step down as a participant and pilot one of the two Cessna Caravans that now provided air power for the event. Rajaram, a rookie big-way organizer with no prior skydiving records to his name, took over to lead the smaller 33-person team, which included very experienced flyers not only from the Washington area but also from numerous vertical big-way record events.

Sriraj Rajaram pinch hits as the lead organizer during the record event. Photo by Jeffry Johnson.

Having never designed a large formation before, let alone a multi-plane formation, Rajaram relied quite heavily on studying past formations from various organizers while ensuring Yount validated his designs and ideas for feasibility. One very apparent challenge was that the fixed benches in the Caravan aircraft required a more float-heavy skydive. Dual Caravans exacerbated this issue, and the aircraft change required the skydiving formation to be reduced, redesigned, validated and communicated in less than the 12 hours remaining prior to start of the record attempts. Fortunately, Rajaram and Yount were able to make the changes quickly.

The new formation, comprised of a six-person base with three primary pods and a secondary pod built off one of the primary pods, gave it a rather phallic shape that skydivers—of course—could not leave unnoticed, bringing many quips, jokes and laughter to keep spirits high in the Washington summer heat. Sriraj’s consummate and successful organizing was even more remarkable given his limited exposure to big-ways; the participants and onlookers alike were proud of the formation erected.

The jumpers set the record on their fifth attempt, which occurred in the cool morning air of the first jump of the third day of the event. Exiting from 15,000 feet and jumping without supplemental oxygen added another level of challenge for the participants. Sixty percent of those on the record were local residents of Washington, while other participants hailed from states such as California, Oregon, Massachusetts, Texas and Utah, as well as Mexico.

The jumpers held the record-setting formation for 3-4 seconds—an appreciable feat in and of itself—and as they landed, they jubilantly cheered, expressing high confidence in their success. After observing the footage and submitting it to the USPA judges for verification, the organizers “semi-released” the participants to go fun jump while awaiting the final decision. Soon thereafter, Rajaram sent out a message: “Some mixed news—the judges think that one of the people celebrating as the formation completed might have lost their grip in excitement. So, we are on a 45-minute call.”

Confusion and panic began to set in, but another message soon followed: “Just kidding—it’s official—the new Washington head-down record is a 33-way!” One final bit of cheeky fun before the event concluded.

The record-setting jumpers gather for a group photo. Photo by Jeffry Johnson.

The record holders are Catriona Adam, Cole Anderson, Wade Baird, Peder Blomker, Trevor Brott, David Bryson, Justin Duclos, Vincent Faires, Gerardo Fernandez, Joseph Gommo, Kevin Haddon, Brendan Haddon, Katie Hansen, Banks Hunter, Kris Penney, Gina Perrone, Campbell Pool, Sriraj Rajaram, Margaret Reagan, Francisco Ruiz-Velasco, David San Pedro, Parmpreet Sandhu, Ryan Sass, Joshua Sattler, Laura Stiles, Tyler Stolzenburg, Angela Stroman, Jessie Thompson, Ben Tucker, Cornelius Van Der Walt, Adam Villarreal, Mark Wallace and Rebecca Wu, with Jeffry Johnson flying video.

Ryan Sass | D-31681
Pleasanton, California

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