Tales from the Bonfire - Where It Began
by Lew Sanborn | D-1
March 1, 2012
Parachuting is 106 years older than the first powered flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903. Jumping started way back in 1797, near Paris, when André-Jacques Garnerin made man’s first recorded parachute jump, from a balloon. On March 1, 1912, Albert Berry made the first parachute jump from an airplane—115 years after Garnerin—over Jefferson Barracks just outside St. Louis, Missouri. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Berry’s parachute jump, others and I thought it would be appropriate to honor the occasion with another parachute jump. (However, not out of a device that looked more like a powered bi-wing kite than an airplane!)
With only a month to put together the event, people started to work. Since I had jumped into Jefferson Barracks twice before, the organizers asked me to do this jump. As I was the only person in the Gateway Chapter of the 82nd Airborne Division current and qualified for the job, the chapter supported my efforts and agreed to reimburse me for the demo insurance, which was almost $500. Next, we looked for an airplane. This proved difficult since one nearby drop zone had recently closed its doors and the other couldn’t spare its only plane. The solution came when a retired American Airlines pilot, Craig Baumberger, came forward with a Cessna P206 that had an in-flight door. In view of the nature of the event, Baumberger donated the airtime and piloted the plane for no charge, as well. Tammy Ritz, also a commercial pilot and an excellent jumper, assisted him.
Base Commander Col. David Newman and his staff set up a landing site and selected a location for the indoor portion of the event prior to the jump. Retired Col. William Florich, now the executive director of the Jefferson Barracks Heritage Foundation, was in charge of the organizational meetings and coordinating all of the personnel. Once I paid the insurance, all that was left for me to do was to make the jump.
The day before the scheduled jump, the winds were blowing at 40 mph. We crossed our fingers, and the next day, conditions were jumpable. I jumped at 1:30 p.m. with light winds and clear blue skies. An hour later, the wind shifted 180 degrees and it was again too gusty for jumping, so we got very lucky.
I think Albert Berry would have been pleased had he been there. The crowd of more than 300 people was, as were the three T.V. stations that attended and the reporters from other media outlets.