Pribram drop zone - one of the country's main centres for tandem parachuting

21-09-2006

South of Prague near the town of Pribram is a decommissioned military airstrip just off the highway. Before you see any sign of the airport you see the sky above filled with parachutes gently falling towards the earth. Welcome to the Pribram drop zone. The man in command of this place is checking a flight manifest - or passenger list - and scanning the skies with a high tech pair of binoculars.

I spoke to several people at the Pribram drop zone.

Hello what is your name?

"My name is Rudolf."

What is your job here?

"My job, I am the director of the airport, and today I am responsible for all jumps."

How many people will jump today?

"You know, its two kinds of people, we have passengers for tandem jumps and then certified jumpers. So, certified jumpers we have about 20 or 25 and about 80 or 85 tandem passengers."

How many flights will take off today?

"Hopefully 18 or 20, I don't know, not yet?"

Is today a busy day?

"It's a normal day, its usual."

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK Are you a skydiver yourself?

"Yes of course!"

How many jumps have you made?

"I did 1,700. It's not enough."

And you still enjoy it?

"Yes, of course, I enjoy it."

Rudolf Crhak shows me around the airfield where his company Sky Service is based. He says skydiving requires an orchestrated effort from many people. He lists the various members of his team.

"If we are open I need at least five people. But today I have five packers, six tandem masters and five video flyers. Plus manifest office two people, one mechanic, two crews for the planes and myself."

How high do the skydivers go when they jump out of the plane?

"In metric 4,000 meters, so it means 13,500 feet."

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK At what altitude do they open their parachutes?

"Usually about 1,000 meters, it's about 3,000 feet. It depends on their category, how experienced they are and so on."

As people rush by with video equipment and unfurled parachute canopies bundled in their arms, others wait around nervously kicking the dirt, I find a tired looking man named Herbert leaning against a rack of packed parachutes. He is wearing a jump suit rolled down to his waist and a t-shirt that reads "Tandem Pilot" across the chest.

"I am a tandem pilot here, it's jumping with people from 4,000 meters."

How many jumps have you made today?

"Today I made eight, and we have four more maybe."

What type of parachute do you use during a tandem jump?

"It's a Sigma, it's an American type, made in the USA."

Is it smaller or larger than a typical parachute?

"It's a little bit larger because it's for two people. It must be twice the size of a normal parachute."

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK What's the largest person you have jumped with?

"Wow, it was 200cm and 125 kilograms it think, if I remember correctly."

Did it change the way you were diving?

"No, it's the same but a little bit faster, it is like 250 kilometres per hour with big people."

All around the drop zone people are waiting on benches or at tables. Some sit stoically while others give nervous smiles and joke quietly. The harnesses that connect tandem passengers to their jump masters give them away as first timers.

Hi there, what is your name?

"My name is Jakub."

Are you going to jump out of an airplane today?

"Yeah I'm going to jump."

Is this your first jump?

"Yeah it is."

Are you afraid at all?

"Just a bit but my whole family is here. My relatives have already jumped so I know that it's ok."

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK Were they scared when they jumped?

"Yeah, I think so, a little bit."

How did they feel after the jump?

"Perfect. They said it was absolutely gorgeous, absolutely perfect. So as I've said I'm really excited."

As Jakub is called for his jump, there is a lot of activity in one of the nearby buildings, which features a wall of video equipment and computers. People come and go in a hurry feeding images into machines and then running off with DVDs in hand. Herbert explains what's going on.

"These people are our video men, freefall camera men. They make videos for tandem customers, for four way teams or for anyone who wants a video from the freefall."

Do they have the camera mounted somehow?

"Yeah, they have special helmets. On the helmet they have a video camera and a still shot camera. And they have a special switch and they can take pictures during the freefall. They have very good skills in sky diving, they are the best skydivers on this drop zone."

Across the room from the wall of video is an open space with brightly coloured equipment spread across the floor. Stretched across the room in parallel lines are the central pieces of equipment here in the drop zone - the parachutes themselves.

"They are packing parachutes for us here, these are our packers. It's the most important people in this drop zone."

Do they have some sort of education in how to pack a parachute?

"Yeah, they have a special licence for packing. They pack parachutes for students, for tandem masters and sometimes for sportsmen."

How long does it take to pack a parachute?

"It depends, a normal parachute takes five to ten minutes, tandem parachutes take around15 to 20 minutes, it depends on their skills."

How many parachutes will these people pack today?

"I'm not sure, 30 to 50 because we are busy today."

How do they pack a parachute?

"First they pack the canopy which must be the same way every time. After this they put the canopy into a container. Then they take care of the lines and pack the container into the harness. And they close the harness and that's all, it's very easy."

21-09-2006