Flying High

Luling couple takes their vacation to the extreme by tandem jumping nearly 14,000 feet from a plane

Heather R. Breaux
August 10, 2009 at 11:00 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Falling 13,500 feet from the sky is how Rickie and Chandra Sampey of Luling wrapped up their vacation last week.

The couple, who’ve been married nearly 10 years, traveled to Raeford, N.C. to try their hand at tandem skydiving with the Army Golden Knights parachute team’s Sgt. 1st Class Mike Elliot.

“This was the first time that either one of us did tandem skydiving,” said Rickie. “In the military, I participated in static-line jumps, but never anything like this.”

Tandem skydiving refers to a type of skydiving where a student skydiver is connected by a harness to a tandem instructor.

The instructor guides the student through the whole jump from exit through freefall, piloting the canopy, and landing.

“It is an unbelievable experience,” said Chandra who is assistant administrator to the parish’s contract monitor. “It just happens way too fast. I remember telling myself to savor the moment, but it’s so much to take in at one time.”

Because Rickie is not employed by a government agency, he was required to jump from a civilian plane at a civilian site, but says that the daredevil rush was just as thrilling.

“I was so excited to actually do the jump, especially since it was with Mike,” he said. “He’s jumped 4,000 times, so I had no fears. I felt save with him on my back”

Elliott, who’s a seasoned veteran with the Army Golden Knights, is best known for jumping with former President George H.W. Bush - first at the rededication of the presidential library and second to help Bush celebrate his 85th birthday.

“Mike has a lot of experience and we felt really safe jumping with him,” added Rickie. “And we can’t wait to do it again.”

In 1959, 13 men joined together to form the Strategic Army Corps Sport Parachute Team, to compete in the then-communist dominated sport of skydiving.

The team performed so well that on June 1, 1961 the Army officially recognized, designated and activated the team as the U.S. Army Parachute Team.

For 50 years the Golden Knights have wowed audiences at air shows, competitions and most recently, with high-profile tandems.

The two demonstration teams travel all over the country performing aerial demonstrations at air shows and special events in support of Army recruiting goals.

The two competition teams travel, competing nationally and internationally at various skydiving competitions, continuously bringing home gold, silver and bronze medals. They are the most successful U.S. Department of Defense sports team.

“The Tandem Team enables the Army to reach out to influential citizens and give them a taste of the professionalism, leadership and teamwork that is involved in giving them a tandem,” said Lt. Colonel Anthony Dill, Commander, U.S. Army Parachute Team.The Golden Knights not only perform at air shows, compete on an international level and perform high profile tandems they also visit high schools and work with local recruiters showing young adults what type of opportunities the Army has for them.

“It was truly amazing,” added Chandra. “The hardest part is controlling your breathing and facial expressions, but I can’t wait to do it again.”

Rickie and Chandra both hope to become certified and continue tandem skydiving.

View other articles written Heather R. Breaux

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