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Page 75
A History of Austin's Newest General Aviation Airport
W. H
Chapter 3
and Henry's predilection, was canopy rela-
tive work--the art of flying open parachutes
in close formation, close enough to wrap your
feet around the lines of the parachute below
or grab a handful of nylon of the canopy zoom-
ing alongside.
The trick to all canopy relative work was
not getting wrapped in a ball of nylon, which
Henry had on two occasions.
Jumpers have a word for such a mess--en-
tangled--but the experience isn't nearly so
neat and formal.
The first time it happened to Henry, a wind-
less day in September, he was 3,000 feet up
practicing with three of his four team mem-
bers, the same bunch who had, only days
earlier, triumphed at the USPA Nationals:
Nasser Basir, Debra Schantz (Schantzi to her
friends), Kevin Gibson (note, Kevin was not
a regular member of the team, but a stand-
in for team member Scott Smith), and him-
self (top to bottom in that order). The four
were docked in a parachute canopy forma-
tion called a "quadra-plane" practicing a move
known as a rotation, in which four skydivers,
chutes open, arrange themselves one on top
of the other with the legs of the person above
hooked into the lines of the canopy below.
From a distance, a four-way biplane looks
like a sandwich of pillowy canopies with the
skydivers so close together they appear to
be standing on each other's heads. Once the
biplane is complete, the top person breaks
away, rapidly descends, and takes his place
at the bottom of the formation. The biplane
resets, and again the person on top rotates to
the bottom, and on it goes.
On that day, Nasser, on top, breaks away.
As he floats upward, his body level with
Schantzi's canopy, an arm or foot or line, or
who knows what, clips the front edge of her
chute and her canopy folds into itself and
flutters and partially re-inflates, all in a mi-
crosecond, and sends a violent halting ripple
through the lines down to Kevin and Henry.
Kevin is jerked backward, and it happens so
quickly that when he rights himself, a leg and
both arms are tangled in Henry's lines. Given
enough time, he could reason his way out of
it, unsnarl one line at time, but the threesome
are falling fast and Schantzi's chute has col-
lapsed on one side, forcing her into a tight
spin she can't control, and the bodies below
are dragging her down. Kevin struggles to
right himself, to get his body and arms and
legs away from Henry's lines, and at the same
time fighting to stop the spin. At the bottom
of this tangled mess, Henry is dead weight,
tossed like a toy at the end of a rope, unable
to do much but look up and hold on against
disorder and wind and noise. He doesn't know
what's happening, but he knows it's not good.
Kevin ratchets his chin up and shouts at
Schantzi to undock, to unhook her feet from
his lines, to let go and to do it now. Henry
shouts at Kevin, now turned backwards and
on his side, his canopy fluttering like a noisy
loose sail, and suddenly he sees Schantzi
floating free. Without thinking, he shouts for
Kevin to cut away, to release his main chute,
to give it a second and pull the reserve. "Cut
away," he screams, or something like it, and