Update Number 4
9 February 2004


Hello Everyone!

This is a condensed story about my skydiving adventure in Thailand. What does skydiving have to do with searching Palau for missing heroes? Read on. (Well, this was going to be condensed, but too much has happened that you would find entertaining, so I’ll be my usual wordy self.)

The Thai Foreign Legion of the BentProp Project has been reduced in effective strength by 50%. But as always, you have to wade through my musings to get to the rest of the story.

But first, lessons learned.

1. IF you’ve seen one Whaling Wall, you haven’t seen them all.

2. Not all keyboards are laid out the same.

3. When faced with the loss of the head chef, the men folk must rally.

4. An aircraft carrier isn’t a postage stamp anymore.

5. Sometimes the system really does work to give you what you need, not what you want.

6. Sometimes it’s nice to drop in unexpectedly on new friends.

7. There’s no ‘I’ in TEAM. There’s no ‘Z’ either.

8. A high spice diet is good for your health.

9. My bride is the smartest woman on the planet.

Our second day in BKK consisted of waking up early in the AM, having breakfast and hitting the streets again to be tourists. We first joined a group that was going by foot, skytrain and cab to the Palace Parade Grounds. This was going to be the site of a big demonstration skydive on Saturday. I had not intended to jump on this event, being in downtown BKK with very few (translate that to, no) alternate landing fields, lots of big buildings, a big river that you did not want to land in at all, and oh by the way, land in the King’s Palace and you’ll be fed to the Bengal Tigers. But, the main landing area was big enough and I’m a confident canopy pilot.

After the landing zone inspection, we headed to the Royal Palace. As we were approaching the main gate, a hawker, or ‘come on Joe’ specialist, got our attention. He told us that since it was Chinese New Year, at noon, there would be free admission to the Palace for foreigners. Well, being the gullible tourists that we were, we listened to him. He told us that he would have a Tuk-Tuk driver (three wheeled motorcycle cab) take us to 2 other temples that had free admission for only 20 Baht(about 50 cents). The only catch was we had to go to his jewelry store enroute back. We told him we didn’t want any. No problem, ‘you just look. Five minutes. No buy. Driver gets gas coupon. Everybody happy.’

So off we go to the Big Standing Buddha. And it definitely was a B.S.B. Lots of vendors and lots of supplicants. Very interesting watching people practice their religion out in public. We took a few pictures, went back to our driver and told him to go to the next temple. “No.” He said he needed to take us to the jewelry store. Okay, let’s get this out of the way.

Off to the jewelry store. Lots of nice things. Five minutes in the store. We fulfilled our obligation and back to the Tuk-Tuk. On to the Golden Mound Temple. Winding stairway, temple on top of the hill. Great view. Back down. No Tuk-Tuk driver. He dumped us. HE DUMPED US!

Another driver said the other guy had to go. We got ditched because we told them at the beginning that we were not going to buy anything. And being honest brokers, we didn’t.

The new driver said for 20 Baht, he would take us back to the Palace. Okay. ‘But first you stop at my store.’

We started walking. We actually were very close to the main boulevard which would lead us to the Palace. But it was a long walk and we were getting hungry and thirsty. So we started looking for a restaurant. Everything was closed either for the Chinese New Year, or the Royal Sky Celebration that we were involved with. And the abundance of pushcarts for food that we saw everywhere else, were absent here.

We heard a noise in an alley, walked down it and saw that people were eating there. We had one of the best tasting meals in BKK, and met some really nice locals. All for 40 Baht.

After the meal, they pointed us towards the Palace and after a long hike, we were inside. The Grand Palace is, well, grand. Lots of intricately carved stone figures, large and small. Ornate buildings. Emerald Buddha. And way too many people for us. Since it was Chinese New Year, lots of locals, as well as tourists were visiting. Since the King and Queen were not in residence, (they spend a lot of time out in the countryside, meeting the people) we left.

Tried to get to a ferry to see the river, but too many ‘come-on’ folks at the pier. So, we reversed course and went back to the hotel for a swim, nap and fine meal in town.

We were tourists one more day. Took the skytrain all the way to a river ferry station and went up river to the Big Reclining Buddha stop. 25 yards from the pier, there was the entrance to T.B.R.B. Nice temple grounds and it really was a very big, golden reclining Buddha. Walked down the street to a sidewalk food stand and ate another great meal. I did not have one bad meal in my entire time in Thailand. And I never tired of the food. A high spice diet keeps you healthy in my book and I made sure I medicated every day.

Started walking along the road parallel to the river. Not much open because this was the last day of Chinese New Year. We got to the next ferry stop and hopped on the river express. We heard someone say China Town and hopped off at that stop, somewhere along the river. We started walking, and at first, everything looked closed. Then we ran into a wall of humanity. We found the ‘mother of all New Year’s celebrations.’ Lots of vendors. Lots of food. Lots of stores. Lots of people. Lots of fun. I even got to try Thai cotton candy. Lighter in texture and taste. It was really good.

We walked a very long way down this boulevard and saw multiple stages with dance troupes, acrobats and more. When we got to the end of the road as far as the celebration was concerned, we took a parallel street back to the ferry, hopped on board and back down river.

Earlier in the week we had some clothes custom made and now it was time for the final fitting. We got to the tailor at the appointed time and the clothes were ready. Rebecca has a few extra pieces for her closet and I have a new black Thai silk jacket.

Out to dinner with friends from Northwest Airlines who were in town, but not for skydiving. He’s a flight attendant for us and his wife is a Trade Representative for the State of Michigan in Shanghai, China. We went to a seafood buffet place along the river at a beautiful hotel. It was quite stunning to be eating along the river at night.

Then it was early to bed as I was going to be getting up in the wee hours of the morning for the big demonstration jump in front of the Grand Palace.

At a very early hour, I left Rebecca for the start of this event. She’s seen a lot of skydives so she decided to miss this whole deal. Many of the accompanying folks were going to be bussed to the show site. Rebecca was going shopping. Smart woman.

We were bussed to the Thai C-130 Hercules Air Base at the BKK airport. A speech by THE four star general, some directions by all the jumpmasters and then our six C-130s showed up. Very impressive to see all that metal there and know it was all for us plus 300+ Thai skydivers. We were going to have the largest mass parachute drop ever: 672 skydivers. (Start thinking of the Jaws theme.) And the airshow also had 3 Porter aircraft, a G-222 and a BT-67.

The plan was to exit at 7200 feet, dive down to a predetermined altitude, deploy our parachutes and land in the landing zone. We were all in bright blue and yellow warm up suits and we each had a belly bag that contained a streamer we were to deploy behind us after opening our parachutes. What could be simpler?

I was in the second plane to drop skydivers. We were 2 minutes or so behind the first airplane and each airplane would disgorge its jumpers in two minute intervals. As the ramp to my C-130 opened, I saw the remaining Hercs turning the corner behind us. When we got out, we were able to see downtown BKK, the first load of skydivers ahead of us and the next Hercules to let people out.

As I was in freefall, I saw someone open their round reserve parachute. Well, they aren’t going to be very happy. I opened exactly where I wanted to and my pattern looked good to land where I wanted to. However, I was catching all the folks from the first airplane, who had big parachutes. I maneuvered around them, set up my pattern, and landed in the northwest corner of the field. Just as I had planned. I really don’t remember much of the city during this jump as I was shifting my gaze from the landing zone to all the parachutes around me and back to the L.Z. rather rapidly.

I landed uneventfully. Gathered up my parachute and quicker than Emeril can say “BAM! BAM! BAM!”, skydivers were thumping in all around me. Tree, building BAM! Tree, building BAM! One of the injured skydivers was Val Slocum. Wait a minute, you’re saying to yourself. Isn’t that one of the BentPropers? Now you know why I’m telling this story. Val is a FedEx Captain and has been part of BentProp as long as I have. She has been on the past two missions and has participated in many of the stateside events. She was supposed to go to Palau as soon as the skydiving gig was over but she is probably not now. She had surgery on her ankle the night of the demo jump.

The Thai General who sponsored this event took a liking to her and when she recovered from surgery, he flew her from BKK to Korat in a Turbine DC-3 (BT-67 for those that want all the pertinent facts) to join her husband JimBob who is also on the skydiving team. She’s here now helping the judges, providing moral support and recuperating on her terms. We are trying to convince her to recuperate in Palau, but the adult in her is coming out and she’s trying to make a mature decision about this. So of the four Thai Divers heading down to Palau, only 3 at this point can go.

Of course I had to make a joke about this. I looked at Dan and said, “With Val injured, who’s going to make us lunch?” He responded without missing a beat, “That’s why Kate is coming along!”

As it turned out, we had many off target landings including trees, buildings, temples, poles, river, soccer field, streets and more trees.

After the big demo jump, we were hosted by the Thai Army to a marvelous luncheon. Lots of food, celebration by the survivors and musical entertainment by a cadre of musicians from the Army’s Psychological Warfare Department. Hmmmm? And there were a lot of soldiers in the compound with M-16 rifles.

I am a retired military man and when I saw the gate guards to this installation with weapons, it didn’t faze me. But there were a lot inside the compound. I asked the Thai translator if this was normal and he asked one of the majors who said “no, this wasn’t normal. Too many visitors here. And you’re all skydivers. Okay, our reputation has preceded us.”

We got bussed back to the hotel, I took a dip in the pool and by 3pm, Rebecca and I were heading to the big outdoor weekend market. We took the Skytrain to the last stop, walked a couple of hundred yards and entered the biggest market we’ve ever seen.

Vendors selling everything from jeans to jewelry, things to eat, thousands of shops. Masses of humanity. But, we had limited time. So we made a quick exit after buying some hand carved chopsticks. Back on the Skytrain, and met friends for a farewell dinner for Rebecca.

At 0300 in the morning, Rebecca was placed in a limo and taken to the airport for her ride home. She got comfy seats all the way and as of this writing, is safely home in the sub-freezing snowy weather.

I left a few hours later for Korat, Thailand for the world record attempts for the largest freefall formation. The current record at the time was 300 and we were out to build a 372 and then maybe go larger. Have you noticed a lot of numbers in this message ending in 72? It’s the Queens 72nd birthday in her 6th cycle and that is why/how we got the support of the Royal (stress the first word here) Thai Air Force. Our world records are to honor Her Majesty.

The team was bussed up to the Air Base in a convoy of motor coaches. There were a total of 505 people including the jumpers, staff and accompanying persons. We were an Army on the move. And an Army has to eat so half way to Korat, we stopped at a Thai National Park and had lunch.

Got to the Air Base, dropped our gear and then went to the hotels. There were two hotels for all of us. As advertised, one was in the heart of the city and better for getting around and for couples, and one was in the country, further away from the Air Base and town. I was out at the resort in the country. Or affectionately known as The Prison Farm. The first few days had some logistics issues, but what we lacked in citified comforts was made up for by the beautiful setting, excellent staff and service, wonderful food and wonderful sunrises. The other hotel may have had a marble foyer, but we had ostriches in the front yard!

My job during this event was to be the liaison/coordinator between the Royal Thai Air Force and us. Us being The World Team. (www.theworldteam.com for all the facts and stories.) I got to be in the C-130 pilots’ briefing room making sure that what we wanted, they flew, and to make sure the skydivers didn’t break too many Air Force rules, too often. We got along famously. They adopted me and fed me after each briefing, let me watch movies with them during weather delays and gave me coffee, water and at the end of the day, beer. So while everyone else was hanging at the drop zone, I was anything but bored.

The first few days were spent on 100 person formation practice jumps. Then we spent a few days on 200 person practice jumps. Then we started the record dives.

Our first dive was 318. This was a great start. The next dive was around 337. Even better. It was obvious that the formation as planned could be built. It was just a matter of statistics now. 372 skydivers all had to have one perfect jump, and all at the same time. We just had to bang out some skydives. And we were losing skydivers to injuries, sickness and failure to perform. Our numbers were shrinking.

Our next jump did not break 300. It was horrible. Then we eeked back over 300. We never went below 300 again.

Then we rode the airplane down a couple of times due to weather and aircraft mechanicals. We were getting close to the end of the event. We had made 6 jumps to try and make a complete formation, weather was in the way, we had one day left and the weather was not looking good for us.

On the last day, I got to the airport before everyone else. It was cold, windy and rainy and BJ Worth, The Chief Cook and Bottle Washer of this whole thing told everyone to hang at the hotels for an extra hour. I briefed with the Base Weatherman who basically said in Thai “If you stay here, you’re screwed.”

A quick check of weather around the country and it showed we were screwed at every Air Base except one, Pak HLi (the H is silent). It was west by 100 miles and was forecasted to be good until noon. If we were going to do this, we had to move fast. And this Army of skydivers isn’t easy to move fast. Kind of like herding cats: you can’t do it and they don’t like it.

Well, we moved as fast as we could. The Air Force General got the permissions, the Herc crews flight planned, we sent a scout crew over by plane to make sure the airfield was safe for us and then we loaded all 4 of our jump planes with jumpers, and the spare airplane with support folks and the judges and we went on a road trip.

We landed at Pak HLi, took a quick look around, quick briefing from our scouts, water and potty break and inside of 45 minutes, we took off. No dirt dive, no extended briefing with the pilots. We just went up. We needed every minute as the weather was in the area and it was supposed to move it. Training proved its worth for both the Thai pilots and the skydivers.

We set a new world record of 357 on that jump. That’s almost 20% larger than the previous record, and we did it quicker: 7 jumps to get it. And an 8th jump to try and break it. There were a lot of folks grumbling before we left Korat that taking this on the road wasn’t going to work, wasn’t a great idea and wasn’t safe. The safety committee made sure it was safe, we got a little extra altitude from the Air Force, it did work, and it was the only way to get the record. Karma? Karma!

Overall, it was a pretty incredible series of jumps too. Of the 8 jumps, all were over the old record of 300 but one. The design of the dive shows that we can build these things bigger and the Air Vice Marshall who sponsored this event wants us to build a 400 way or larger in a few years. So stay tuned for more World Team adventures.

Now for the rest of the BentProp connection. Kate Cooper was one of the organizers of this event. She is a world famous skydiver and is a Team Captain and head of the skydiver selection committee. She also was accepted onto the BentProp team for this year’s mission. She got scuba qualed earlier in the year, got all her jungle and water gear together, managed to get the time off from her business (full time in the parachute equipment business) and during one of the practice dives, dislocated her shoulder.

A world famous skydiver and orthopedic surgeon from Belgium, Eric Decoster, rushed to her side, reduced her dislocation in the field and told her to take two aspirins and call him in the morning.

Being the trooper she is, she stayed on site to continue with her duties on the ground. She still managed us and kept the team heading in the right direction. But, we have lost her for the mission to Palau. Of course I had to make a joke about this: “Now who’s going to make us lunch?”

Val and Kate are both torn about going to Palau, or going home. The adult in both of them know to go home and get more medical attention. The adventurer in them says they’re already on this side of the world and they can recuperate just as well in Palau as in TN and CA.

As I write this, I’m at 37,000 feet enroute to Japan so I can go to Guam, spend the night and fly to Palau on the 9th. Val and her husband JimBob are a couple of rows behind me heading home. Kate, as of the time we left, still hadn’t changed her itinerary. There is a chance she may come to Palau for just a couple of days to see the place, and then head home. She won’t be on any of the missions, but she can get a feel for what we do, and have a few libations at the PPR at sunset. But, I don’t know yet, and won’t know until we get an email that says come pick her up at the airport.


I arrived in NRT on the 8th and took the bus to Continental’s terminal fully expecting to be in GUM before 10pm. I checked in and the Japanese gate agents sucked in a lot of air through their teeth and in Japanese said, “You’re screwed. All the flights are full for the next two days.” I ran to a computer in the airport and started looking at alternatives.

We have a flight that leaves at 0945 that gets me to GUM with 5 hours to spare for my flight. No problem. I just need to list myself and get the jumpseat. However, the computers in the terminal, wireless and free usage, all have Japanese keyboards. Although English letters and characters are on them, they don’t all match up. As I was sending email around the globe to keep people informed on my travels, I found I could not make an apostrophe. That limits me to not using contractions. That might be good for English class, but this is email. I want to use contractions. It also makes commands to the mothership computer at work a little mysterious.

The flight was oversold, but I had the jumpseat. I was going to get to GUM. But I wasn’t about to spend the night at the airport. So off I went to make sure my bags would arrive in Palau with me, as they did when Rebecca and I got bumped from the ROR flight in January. You do remember that don’t you? You are reading these and committing them to memory?

Well, the Japanese gate agents sucked in a lot of air and said I needed to collect my luggage. “But can’t you manually reroute them to your Global Alliance Partner so I don’t have to drag all my skydiving equipment through the airport, out to the hotel and back tomorrow?”


I grab my bags, head out to the curb and wait for the crew bus to take me to our layover hotel. Then it dawned on me. It’s cold in Japan. I had a little travel bag with shorts, polo shirt and swim trunks expecting to spend the day on the beach in GUM. I would have been very limited here. But now I had my real suitcase with jeans and a long sleeve shirt I had purchased in BKK. Okay, this is working in my favor. But I still have to drag my heavy skydiving equipment with me. A tradeoff.

Got to the hotel. Rooms available. Headed down to the pub for a real Guiness. (Unlike some places in the world, the Japanese know how to pour a real Guiness.) Ran into some friends who fly the 747 who wondered what a DC9 guy was doing here. I told them it was a long divert from Minot, ND.

Went to the computer room first and ran into Jack, the Director of Flying from DTW. He said to meet him in the pub for a cold one and we could socialize. Popped a quick email to Rebecca to let her know what was going on and who I had run into.

Into the pub and socialized with a bunch of crew members including Jack. Created a new dish there: buffalo gyoza. That was grand.

I had the earliest get up so off to bed I went. But one more check of email. Since the time is opposite back home, Rebecca would be up, or getting up. Her note to me was just what I needed. “Ask Jack to bring home your skydiving equipment.”

Back to the pub, and after applying the appropriate amount of leverage, he came up to my room, hoisted my gear on his back and said ‘have a good trip.’ Jack is a great supporter of our missions to Palau. He’s a former Marine who likes what we are doing out there. Now he has six bags to drag back to DTW. I sure hope TSA leaves him alone unlike they did with me in GUM.

Up early. Ate breakfast. Lots of coffee. Out to the airport. Expecting long lines at the ticket counter since we haul 400 or so folks to GUM in a 747. 22 minutes from the time my foot hit the curb until I was inside the security checkpoint, through immigration and with a wide seat in hand. Seems Mondays are a great day to travel from/in Japan. Travel agencies are closed on Saturdays and Sundays so the no-show factor is higher on Monday since people cannot make changes over the weekend.

In GUM, pass through U.S. immigration and customs and present myself to the Continental Ticket Counter expecting to hear the bad news about being oversold. But wait! I have a seat. I will get to Palau tonight. As advertised. Then the agent told me to go around what I thought was a construction area. It turns out that the artist Wyland is painting a Whaling Wall at the Guam International Airport. He painted two murals in Palau last year and I’ve seen his work around the world. Rebecca and I have even been to his galleries. I stop and schmooze, get a few photos and move on.

Check email and find out that Kate is an adult too and will be seeking medical care for her shoulder. Smart move. Smart moves for both Val and Kate.

I stopped at the TSA office and found the manager from my brush with ‘the law’ here 3 weeks ago and we’re still buddies.

Then I started typing away to make what I thought would be condensed, much longer.

Now it’s 1730. Two hours and 15 minutes until pushback. I’m hungry and thirsty and I can take care of both issues in the food court.

So that brings us back to Palau. The team has already found a B-24 that they’ve been looking for, for over 8 years. I hope to get to dive on it and see the find. But we have other targets too. So, the next update will be from that gorgeous island and hopefully I’ll have many stories to tell.

So until then, right back at ya!

Blue Skies, Flip