by Dan Rossi
September 13, 2003: Garrettsville OH
The world record for the largest freefall formation of blind skydivers was shattered today in the skies over rural Ohio. The two-way smashed the existing record by a factor of … two.
The participants, John “BJ” Fleming of California/Oregon 1900+ jumps, and Dan Rossi of Pennsylvania 300+ jumps, stepped off the tailgate of a Casa at 14,000 feet and into the skydiving history books, becoming the first two blind skydivers to ever be in freefall together.
The jumpers exited in a side-by-side and were stable right out the door. They closed for the two-way, screamed their congratulations to each other and then opened back to a side-by-side. At 6,500 feet Rossi gave Fleming the pull sign, a hard shake of his upper arm. Fleming deployed in position and then Rossi, assisted by a safety diver who was lurking near by, tracked to 4,000 feet and deployed.
There was quite a bit of radio traffic as Larry Wereb ably talked down the two skydivers, bringing them both in for great landings.
“We really pulled it off. I can’t believe it.” Said Fleming after landing back on the drop zone.
“It was beautiful.” Said Rossi. “I can’t believe that BJ let another blind guy give him the pull sign. He’s crazier than me.” He added after making his way back to the packing area.
When asked about the complexities in a dive such as this, Rossi responded: “Well, large freefall formations like this take months of planning and practice. A lot of people have to be in the right place at the right time. We think it might be theoretically possible to add another blind jumper, but we’d really have to investigate the aerodynamics of a formation that large.”
When asked about the experience and talent of a jumper to be part of this momentous skydive, Fleming explained: “Well, for a jump of this magnitude we had to take the best, and only the best skydivers qualified to make this jump. We had to look for the best, most experienced, and most active blind skydivers in the country. Of the two possible candidates, I think we chose well.”
To prove it was no fluke, Fleming and Rossi made a second jump together on Sunday. This time they invited their two safety divers to join them in a four-way. Rossi and Fleming repeated their flawless exit from the previous day and were joined in freefall by Don Schwab of Ohio and Howard Hutchetson of Oregon. The four-way built quickly and the divers got bored of geeking at each other while waiting for 6,500 feet. Rossi again gave the pull signal and then tracked with Schwab to a 4,000 foot deployment. Mary O’Reilly of Ohio successfully talked down the two jumpers for great landings.
The record attempt was nearly ended before it began when Rossi was “lost” on a jump Thursday evening. Due to a much greater than expected push from the uppers, and deteriorating lighting conditions, Rossi’s radio man was unable to see him from the ground. Rossi landed uneventfully in a field more than a mile from the landing area.