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Lover's Leaps : Army Sky Diver Finds Sport Can Unite a Couple and Keep Them Apart

August 20, 1994|JEFF SCHNAUFER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If you think you have troubles with long-distance relationships, consider Trevor McCarthy. He had to leap from a plane at 12,500 feet Friday to drop in on his wife in Canoga Park.

A corporal with the Army's Golden Knights Parachute Team, McCarthy is stationed at Ft. Bragg, N.C., but will perform with the team this weekend at the Van Nuys Airport Expo.

During a practice jump Friday from an Air Force C-130 cargo plane above the San Fernando Valley, McCarthy and his 10 comrades reflected on a lifestyle where 200 m.p.h free falls are less traumatic than missing a weekend with a loved one.

"We travel about 300 days a year," McCarthy said of the team, which will perform at 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the annual Van Nuys air show. "It's pretty rare that I get to see my wife."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday August 21, 1994 Valley Edition Metro Part B Page 2 Column 1 Zones Desk 1 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
Photo credit--Incomplete credit was given Saturday for the photos of Army sky divers jumping over Van Nuys Airport. Photos made in free fall were taken by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Jamie Cayado.

But it was the romance of parachuting that literally swept his wife, Katherine, off her feet. The 22-year-old real estate agent met her future husband in 1991, when he became her sky-diving instructor at a civilian school in Perris.

Following their marriage, he joined the Army in 1992 in order to try out for a three-year berth on the elite parachuting team, which performs at air shows and competitions around the country. Now the couple hook up only on leave or when his drop zone is nearby.

Despite the occasional loneliness, it is a lifestyle McCarthy would not trade for anything, even though there are many who wonder why someone would jump out of a plane for a living.

"It's a sport, like skiing or surfing," said McCarthy, who competed for six weeks in Yuma, Ariz., before he was accepted on the team. Only about eight of 50 applicants made it to the team of 83 men and women, who travel together at various times.

Just before making his 2,079th jump Friday, McCarthy called the experience "like riding a roller-coaster 2,000 times."

Routinely risking their lives does not make them feel closer to death, said Sgt. Gary Winkler of Deerfield, Fla., the team leader. At 35, he said, jumping actually makes him feel younger.

"Blows the wrinkles back." Not that sky-diving is always this lighthearted. The dangers are real enough to make newcomers superstitious.

"When people first start jumping, they tend to wear the same flight suit, helmet or underwear," said McCarthy. "Then you realize there is nothing otherworldly about it. It's just physics."

Actually, there is more to it than just physics.

As the plane climbed to jump altitude, Winkler tossed a black-and-gold marker out the yawning rear cargo door to gauge the winds that would influence their descent to the drop zone on the airport. Falling at 16 feet per second, the streamer would still be aloft long after the jumpers, racing earthward at 176 feet per second before their chutes opened, touched terra firma.

Climbing to 12,500 feet, an altitude from where Catalina Island can be seen as a baseball diamond on the horizon, Winkler signaled his team into position. Then, with a shout, the nine men and two women hurtled into space, yanking the cords that set off red smoke grenades attached to their boots that marked their trail through the air.

Plunging to earth at speeds between 120 and 200 m.p.h., the group plummets 10,000 feet in 65 seconds before popping the chutes. This is enough air time to create three patterns: a star, a diamond and a bomb burst--all visible from the ground because of the crimson smoke trailing each jumper.

But the hardest part of the job still awaits--repacking the 265-square-foot nylon chutes.

"It's like making your bed," said Sgt. Steve Baker, 30, of Fort Worth, Tex. "You hate doing it."

But that's about all McCarthy and his teammates hate about the job. They only have three years to enjoy it, after all, before they must return to their regular Army duties, as everything from Army medics to photographers.

Ironically, McCarthy will be condemned to the ground as an infantryman when his Knighthood ends. Perhaps that explains what he plans to do with his time off with his wife this weekend.

"We'll probably go sky-diving," he smiled.

Aviation Expo Parking A. Van Nuys Swap Meet 8345 Hayvenhurst Place B. Kaiser Marquardt Industries 16555 Saticoy St. C. Handicapped Parking 8050 Balboa Blvd. D. Recreation and Parks Field 17500-17600 Victory Blvd.

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