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Skydiving For Olympics | Part II

Part II of SKYDIVING FOR OLYMPICS??? is all about SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT on a few things that were rightfully omitted from the article in The Sport Parachutist back in 1987. And it provides the infamous "no-....-there-I-was" angle that we all know from other skydiving stories.

Aiguamolls de l'Empordà National Park

Except for the imagery by Leo Dickinson and other professionals working on behalf of the El País newspaper, this is how the article appeared in The Sport Parachutist, The Journal of the British Parachute Association, Volume 24, Number 3, June 1987. Only very minor changes were made to the Catalan spelling of the locations and to FAI/CIP. To be consistent with the bid submitted to COOB 92, English was replaced with French, back then the only statutorily acceptable language for the names of both bodies.

As mentioned, SKYDIVE FOR OLYMPICS??? must have been written based on Spanish press coverage and on a brief conversation with either Uwe Beckmann or I. We didn’t have any international media outlets present. The whole undertaking evolved on too short a notice to even think about inviting them. A good thing, too, as not everything turned out the way it was planned.

It is an accurate account of what happen that day in Castelló d’Empúries, leaving out things that may not have been of relevance to the mission itself, but that had at least some of us worried that the long-term success of our mission had already been compromised.


Five of us were jumping – no names need mention here, the responsibility falls on me – in conditions which were not at all suitable for the practice of our sport. The low ceiling, the rain and the strong winds were compounded by a drop zone located on a narrow stretch of sandy beach in a national park with extensive marshlands. Access to the beach was limited to the 4x4 vehicles belonging to the park rangers. No exceptions!

Our ground crew – not being considered VIPs like the Mayors’ delegations – arrived after we had landed, in the last Nissan Patrol to make the 15-minute drive from the nearest road. That boy scouts would look for remoteness when setting up their camps I knew, I was one myself, but combined with the lack of flexibility on the part of the rangers, it ended up aggravating a bad situation.

While we were in radio contact with the ground crew from the aircraft overhead, they couldn’t do what is considered key to safe landings near a body of water: lay out the target and pop a canister of smoke of the kind that is used by the military display teams – and that is extremely hard to get as a civilian. The boat crew we had commissioned for water rescues was on the same radio frequency and circled at about 200 meters from the shoreline. They couldn't get any closer because the high offshore winds made for unusually shallow waters between them and the beach. 

Most worrisome: due to the downpours the delegation had encountered earlier, on the way up from Barcelona, Maragall’s visit to the camp was running more than two hours behind schedule at this point. Sunset – as in “end of evening civil twilight” – was becoming a major issue, very rapidly.

The winds aloft were howling. That much we were able to gather from the airspeed gauge in the C-207, and we opted to take the spot deep and deeper. Finally, we popped our own smokes and got out, one after the other, trying to stack the five canopies with different delay times as much as one can from 2,000 feet.

Under canopy we spent the first seconds holding into the wind and deploying our flags as per a protocol we had established in consultation with the Spanish Olympic Committee. The Spanish flag was to land first, the Catalan second, the one belonging to the Count’s – as in old Catalan nobility – Town of Castelló d’Empúries third, followed by the flag with the Olympic rings and – the climax – that of the Barcelona 1992 candidature for the Olympics. The proper Games’ logo had not yet been designed.

"Everybody's Goal" Button

Our canopies were getting blown backwards at all levels. The one thing we were able to make out by checking between our legs while barely holding was the shoreline, and pulling down the front risers was the only way to remain up-wind of the target, which we had declared to be the entire stretch of the 300x20 meters of sandy beach. Someone, we figured, will be somewhere in this zone and see at least some of us land.

We just kept pulling down the front risers all the way to the final approach and through it, landing with enough inertia to put all of us flat out on our backs. And with a window of nanoseconds to pull in the steering lines to avoid being drug into the Mediterranean by an inflated canopy. The success rate for that was only 60% between the five of us. The two lightest jumpers – both of whom could have easily made just about any mount as jockeys too – were pulled backwards through wet sand and into the breaking surf: they were the numbers four and five, the Olympic and the Barcelona 1992 flag.

To be continued!

Roland Hilfiker

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