Skydivers push excitement to its limits

By Sherri Barth

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(photo credit: Kevin Maestas)

Think jumping from an airplane sounds exciting? Skydiving enthusiasts have found a different launchpad that takes their flight to new heights and exhilarating freefalls.

“You get that stomach-in-your-heart feeling” from jumping off a hot air balloon, according to skydiver Jake Cordova of Skydive New Mexico.

Parachuting from a hot air balloon was first introduced as a means of safety, when in 1785, Jean-Pierre Blanchard tested this method of skydiving using a dog. Blanchard would soon have to put himself in a parachute and jump out of his own hot air balloon, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.

Skydivers have been getting a thrill from jumping, then parachuting from a hot air balloon at altitudes that can equal that of jumping out of airplanes. Cordova said jumping off a hot air balloon, or static jumps, is similar to base jumping.

“You get that feeling that you are actually falling real intense, as opposed to skydiving, you’re out of an airplane, your body is already in motion,” he said. “It notices that, whereas in a balloon you are mostly stationary.”

Cordova has been jumping out of planes or skydiving since 2010, he said, but he completed his first hot air balloon static jump last year.

Last week, this reporter was a passenger in the hot air balloon, “Mas Fedia,” operated by Air Carriage, LLC. Owner and pilot Arthur Moller said he takes skydivers up two to three times a week to skydive or parachute off his balloons, with good weather permitting.

This 12-person gondola carried, along with Cordova, two other skydivers, Shawn Scott and jump master Kendrick Dane. Moller took his hot air balloon to a height of 11,000-feet above sea level, an altitude which he said is about even with the Sandia Crest.

Each jumper leaped from the gondola at nearly 6,000 feet above the ground. Moller said that Air Carriage has four balloons, and he takes passengers and skydivers up on any given day throughout the year, weather permitting. He charges skydivers $125 per jump and passengers pay $160 per flight, he said.

Scott, also from Skydive New Mexico, said he skydives off balloons once a month. Scott said his sensation of jumping out of a balloon is not as intense as Cordova describes but explains the different feeling he gets from skydiving out of a plane.

“This is a little bit more peaceful. It’s basically a still exit,” he said. “Out of a plane you are going 80 miles an hour, you have all that wind and sound. So this is like jumping off a cliff. You get that sensation of falling right away.”

According to Scott, the jumpers are at terminal velocity, or “free fall,” for 15 seconds, and the entire jump from gondola to ground is about two minutes.

Scott said the way divers jump from a plane and their “body position” is completely different from how they exit an airplane too.

“Basically you have to pronounce yourself into the wind when you are leaving a plane. (When jumping from a balloon) there is no wind, so you can do whatever you want,” he said.

Scott said the hot air balloon is in descent when skydivers jump, because the balloon is losing their body weight, causing its altitude to go up. He also does other extreme sports such as paragliding, he said.

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(Photo credit: Kevin Maestas)

Dane said it was world renowned pilot, skydiver, instructor and parachutist Bob Martin that made him interested in skydiving. Dane was asked if he would be the new drop zone lawyer for Skydive New Mexico, and after taking the job he became a Skydive New Mexico team member with Martin.

Martin was also the news helicopter pilot and reporter for KRQE News 13. He died when his helicopter, Sky News 13, crashed near Carrizozo, New Mexico, in September.

Martin set a world record for high altitude jumps by diving from a hot air balloon. Dane remembers how Martin, years after he quit skydiving, was challenged about his ability to skydive by another jumper that apparently didn’t know him very well.

“One day at the drop zone, someone quipped to him, ‘What do you know, Bob? You haven’t been for a skydive in five or 10 years,’” he said. “He just went and got a rig and did a skydive.”

Former KRQE news anchor Kim Burrows — formerly Kim Holland — said she met Martin at KRQE and worked with him on many news stories. But the two also shared their love of skydiving while flying in the KRQE helicopter. states Martin hit the world record for skydiving at 32,000 feet. Burrows said the highest jump she made from a hot air balloon was around 9,000 feet. Martin was known for also being a great pilot, Burrows said.

“When we were in that chopper, nobody felt safer than flying with Bob Martin,” she said. “He was kind, giving and thoughtful. He wanted the best product on the air, he wanted you to look good, sound good and he wanted to take no glory in any of it.”

Scott said he did a jump from a plane that was being piloted by Martin.

“He was such a good dude, really, down to earth. He was a great pilot, as well. The guy was just amazing,” Scott said.

This article is dedicated to the memory of Bob Martin.

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