SEBASTIAN – A group of skydivers spent their Sunday after Christmas trying to do something no one else has in Florida – set a record for the most people in a wingsuit formation.
Sebastian resident and avid skydiver Jeff Nebelkopf organized the group of seven wingsuit divers during the annual Skydive Invasion at Skydive Sebastian. The men made several jumps Sunday, hoping to fly in formation long enough for their photographer and videographer, Harry Parker, to capture it for judging. The United States Parachute Association recently recognized wingsuits as an official sport and as such is now recording records set for formations. To date, no record has been established for Florida.
It could take them three weeks or longer to hear back from the United States Parachute Association judges, according to Nebelkopf.
After one jump, the divers gathered around a TV in Skydive Sebastian’s hanger to review the footage.
“Everyone got amped,” Nebelkopf told his fellow divers, noting that they all jumped from the plane quickly – quicker than the previous jump. “It’s a massive improvement.”
The jump wasn’t a rousing success. The divers had only half the altitude they needed to have time to find their places in relation to each other.
Nebelkopf explained that low-level clouds had forced the plane to stay lower than the usual 13,500 feet.
After the brief review, the men suited up again for another practice run – a “dirt dive.” They found their places in the formation and laid face down on the ground, drawing heckles from other skydivers who were enjoying the sunny day.
“It helps us visualize,” Nebelkopf said of the trial jump.
As they waited to board the plane for their third jump, Nebelkopf said that wingsuit diving gives you the closest feeling of flight than anything else.
“It’s just like a bird,” he said.
The 20-minute plane ride ends with the wingsuit flight into the drop zone. The fall can take about a minute and a half – though longer as needed to get all the divers in formation.
After their third flight, the divers again gathered around the TV to see how they did.
“Not bad, not bad at all,” Nebelkopf said. “That, technically, is successful.”
Parker paused the film to show where the men appear to be in the proper formation – an image from the film will be taken and sent to the judges for review.
Nebelkopf said the men should try another jump to see if they could improve. The divers gave him thumbs up in response.
The divers include Matt Gropp, Eric Matoy, Ross Anderson, Olly Burgin, Mark Mealman and Larry Strayhorn.