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Skydiver Grabs Chute on Way Down (1965)

(This story was originally written and recorded for Retrocast #22, released on November 30, 2023.)

Skydiver Rod Pack claimed that on Friday, January 1, 1965, he intentionally jumped out of an airplane at 14,600 feet (4,450 m) in Arvin, California, without a parachute. Remarkably, he safely descended to the ground using a parachute handed to him by a fellow skydiver who leaped from the same plane and caught up with him 4,000 feet (1,219 m) below.

In what was an aerial first, Pack, a 26-year-old movie stuntman, said, “They claimed it couldn’t be done, but we proved differently.”

The pilot verified Pack’s narrative, and this confirmation was echoed by two skydiving aerial photographers who snapped photos of Pack as he made his descent.

Pack and his skydiving companion, Bob Allen, 25, engaged in several practice jumps, exchanging a lightweight reserve chute between them. Subsequently, Pack recounted that he leaped out, donning only a parachute harness but no chute.

Pack told the press, “I flared out, lying on my stomach with my feet and arms out, grabbing as much air as possible to slow me down.’’

Allen immediately followed him, equipped with both a standard back chute and a reserve chest chute. Pack, weighing 167 lbs. (75.7 kg), donned a deep-sea diver’s belt loaded with 30 pounds (13.6 kg) of weights to match the approximate weight of the parachute-laden Allen.

Without those weights, Allen could have outpaced Pack in the sky, “and I’d have floated around up there like a feather.”

By changing their hand and arm motions, the two were able to align themselves side by side by the time they were 4,000 feet below the plane. At that point, Allen passed the reserve chute to Pack.

“He wouldn’t let go of it until I gave him the nod,” Pack said.

Once he got the parachute package beneath his body, Pack was able to utilize wind pressure to keep it in place as he attached the parachute’s hooks to the two D rings on his harness. During this maneuver, he had fallen an additional 4,000 feet.

And then he pulled the ripcord.

“The sensation is terrible, I tell you. With the parachute hooked to your stomach, you come to a screeching halt from 125 miles an hour (201.1 km/h). Your feet go one way and your head another till they about hit each other. But it was a good feeling at the time.”

Pack reached the ground unharmed.  Shortly after that, Allen and the two photographers did the same. “We were all just whooping and hollering at each other that the impossible had been done.”

So, was Pack scared? “Oh, yeah, I’ll have to admit it,” he said. “But the main thing I was interested in was getting nice and stable so Bob could come down and catch up with me.”

He added: “I feel great now that it’s over. It’s a headache that has been bothering me for a long time. My wife Nancy didn’t like it at all. She said it makes the other stunts I do, in the movies — high falls off buildings, getting thrown through windows — seem like nothing.”

But when he was asked if he would ever attempt such a thing again, Pack said, “No thank you. I proved my point and that’s all I want to do.”

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