The 90’s became the first time a separate skydiving school was developed for training students. In 1991 Dave Ropp and Ruth Sondheimer began Skydive Westpoint, Inc. and began training students in a separate trailer from the old club house. Their school continued to grow and increase in business over the next four years until both Dave and Ruth were killed in the 1995 Queen Air plane crash. After a few months, the school started up again with new owners Benny and Terrie Sherman, who renamed the school Westpoint Skydiving Center. They owned the school for four years before selling the school to Jim Crouch in April, 2000 and the school was renamed to its current name: West Point Skydiving Adventures.
This is from summer 1992 with Michael Gelardi getting stepped on by a group of beautiful women. From left to right are: Becky Smith, Melissa Wirt, Joanna Smith, Jane Marchant, Sandy Wambach, Carol Clay, Judy Augustine, Robbie Conner, and Ruth Sondheimer.
Sadly the ’90’s proved to be a trying decade for the Peninsula Skydivers and after decades of good fortune and good times we suffered through several tragic events.
Peninsula Skydiver’s most difficult time came with the crash of the Queen Air. On September 10, 1995 just before sunset our Queen Air carrying 11 jumpers lost power in the right engine and stalled at about 300 feet. The plane crashed into the back of Reverend Vincent Harris’ house, killing him and the 11 on board the airplane. On the plane were Gina Arbogast, Nick Christian, Mike Faulkner, “T” Isherwood, Brett Jordan, Ches Judy, Jim Pratt, Pierre Richard, Dave Ropp, John Shaw, and Ruth Sondheimer. This was an incredibly difficult time for all the families and club members. There was a memorial service at West Point for all the families on September 23 and the press was allowed limited coverage. The prior weeks had been a zoo with the media as they swarmed the airport trying to get a story. Over 500 people attended the memorial service. Club members looked weary after the previous 2 weeks of traveling across the Mid Atlantic to the individual services, planning the West Point Memorial and working, all at the same time. Their memories will stay with those that knew them forever.
More difficult losses occurred during the 90’s including the loss of Jane Marchant in a private plane crash with her husband, Sandy Wambach was killed in a July 18, 1998 freefall collision during the World Record attempts at Skydive Chicago and finally Bill Kenny, who was killed on November 14, 1998 after a total malfunction on his main at Skydive Orange. Bill was 71 and still skydiving hard at the time of his death.
But we continue on as Skydive The Point and carry the memories and stories of all those wonderful people with us.
This was a night hoop dive from the early ’80’s. In the picture are front row: Jimmy Mac, Brian Jaspers, Doug Bowmer. In the back row are: Sandy Wambach, Carol Clay, Kate Cooper, Brad Wambach, Darcy Jaspers, Charlie Brown, Dave Breen.
This jump was nearly the end of most of these folks as they were all open very low. It is rumored that Kate Cooper was reaching up to unstow her brakes after opening and hit the ground. But thankfully nobody was injured!
A shot from the late ’80’s in front of the club house.
Jack Thompson’s Gold Wings jump Feb., 1984
The ’70’s were a time for growth of skydiving in general and of the Peninsula Skydivers. In the picture above is: Front Row, center is Rick Odum who is holding the picture. This was to celebrate his 2,000th jump in 1979 and the photo he is holding was the photo taken before his 1,000th jump in 1975. Carol Clay on the far right, who has been a large part of West Point history since the mid seventies. Back Row Bill Ottley at far left and one to the right is Tommy Bryant. The Peninsula club continued to grow many top level competitors in the Style and Accuracy meets as Relative Work began it’s infancy.
This is a shot of Tommy Bryant, Stan Hicks, and Clayton Schoepple at the 1972 Eastern Conference.
This is a shot from the 1975 Eastern Conference.
Here is Carol Clay descending under her ParaCommander. Could there be any more vents in those damn things??!!
On January 14, 1969 Peninsula Club member Walter Nott attempted to break the record for the number of jumps made in a 24 hour period. Alas the FAA saw an article about the attempt in the Richmond Times Dispatch the day before. They stopped the attempt because the club members packing for Walter were not Riggers. He had made 47 jumps at the time the record was stopped. The paper had the photo below:
The greatest story from the ’60’s is about Tommy Bryant’s night jump into the Washington Burgess pool:
This story won a contest for the greatest jump story for the first 20 years of the Peninsula Skydivers which was told during a reunion at West Point on July 18, 1987. These are the words of Tommy Bryant, D-1606:
I watched Paul Keith Thacker fall to his death under a double entanglement on his father’s birthday in 1973 after going through an identical situation a month earlier in which my reserve should have entangled but it didn’t.
I was on the telemeters as Dale Gaffney impacted half way down the runway as he got line stretch on his reserve-paralyzing him from the waist down for life. I remember that a few years earlier, I had landed in the same spot after getting line stretch maybe 30 feet higher.
I watched as Steve Kopelove and Curtis Davis fell, canopies entangled, 100 feet to the ground out near the pit. Steve’s back was broken and Curtis’ leg was shattered.
I was pulled through the the side of an airplane, almost tearing the tail assembly off and although I couldn’t see my altimeter because it was covered with my blood, I managed to land in soft sand, under half a parachute. Becoming the first person to survive that type of accident, which occured at Fort Bragg, N.C. Sicily DZ in 1970.
I prefer not to dwell on these types of jump stories. Skydiving is a dangerous, dirty, nasty business filled with inherent risks but somebody has got to do it. Doing ot with style-pardon the pun- is what makes the difference, at least for me. Possibly a story involving myself and the colorful characters I have met jumping over the years would be a better choice.
One evening after drinking way too much at a Suffolk meet, I ate a live frog with Donn Simms(founder of the Virginia Paracute Council). The next morning I caught a bus back to Richmond because I was too sick to continue in the meet.
I watched as last jumper out on a 10 way practice in 1975, Steve Kopelove’s accidental main deployment at 10.500 feet, his immediate cutaway of an entangled main, his skydive to his position in the 10 way formation, and his reserve deployment after the completed formation-simply AMAZING!
Maybe I should tell of a phantom jump.
I have a 17,200 foot(C-182) phantom jump into Roanoke Rapids, NC Stan Hicks was the pilot. One jumper got hypoxia and couldn’t jump. Walter Nott and I did jump. Walter crashed into a Harley Davidson shop a mile away with a busted steering line.
I have a night phantom jump into a banquet at Mount Joy, PA under a 500 foot overcast ceiling. Stan Hicks was the pilot. Club president and winner of the meetJay Harsh and area safety officer Bob Hillard were banned from their DZ for 2 months for this one, and Stan and I were asked to leave town as we were incorrigible influences on their leaders.
I have another unauthorized night phantom jump into the Kings Dominion end of season party at 1 A.M. with Hank Henry. The pilot was Jerry Holler. The FAA was on the scene, baffled as we escaped in the confusion.
I have a phantom jump into Lou Getz’s gold wing party on July 3, 1971 at Pottsburg, PA. Fred Yelinik was the pilot. I landed on stage with the band.
After considering all those tales, the one most satisfying to me follows:
This jump story goes back 20 years, I had just turned 26. It was the week end of the spring CASPA meet at West Point, VA in 1967. Over 125 of the best skydivers on the east coast showed up for the meet(over 3 times the size of our own VPC) to do Style and Accuracy. There were famous skydivers everywhere you looked. The Golden Nights were there with Ray Duffy-1965 National Overall Champion, Mick Howard, Tom Benion, etc. The Charlotte, NC skydivers: Jimmy Davis, Joe Faulk, Stoney Burk, etc.The Pelicans(Ridgely, MD) were there in force: Bob Holler-the winner of 3 $1000 money meets in 1 year(Las Vegas, Stone Mountain, GA and Lake Placid, NY). The first three meets that I attended in which he finished, he won them all with dead centers. He was my hero and still is. Mike Schultz, who taught me to do style and who I patterned myself after, was also there. Johnny Crews, Karen Roach-National Champion, Martha Huddleston-National Champion, Billy Gifford, Clayton Schoepple-National and World Absolute Champion, and on and on. At the banquet on Saturday night, things got a little rowdy as the beer flowed. Jimmy Davis mooned all from atop a Coke machine. It was a great party when I heard a group talking about how small the pool was at the Washington Burgess. After a few beers I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. I said “it’s plenty big and that I would make a jump into it”. Everyone laughed, “Sure, sure” they said. I slipped away, finding Walter Nott and Jimmy Davis, off the top of the Coke machine. I asked Jimmy who would fly us over the motel and he said he could talk one of those crazy Pelican’s into it. He did.
A large crowd of Pelicans was on their way to the motel anyway, as none of them wanted to miss Bill Ottley on the Johnny Carson Show. He was a Pelican I hadn’t met yet, but would watch on National TV later that evening. Ottley stole the show as Carson left his other guests in the wings.
I went up to Johnny Crews, gave him my altimeter, and told him to make sure the meet photographer was there. He laughed for the first time, it broke the tension, since Walter Nott, Buddy Allen and I had casually walked into a room full of Pelican wives and girlfriends the night before with only a smile and our jump boots on. Fortunately, all of the concerned men were out getting beer.
Johnny announced that Tom Bryant was going to attempt a jump into the swimming pool at the motel in 15 minutes, followed by Bill Ottley on the Johnny Carson Show. Someone yelled out that he hasn’t got a set large enough. One of the Pelican females yelled back, “Yes he does, I saw ’em last night!”
The jump is recorded history-on a round canopy with less than 200 jumps. I went on to win the Intermediate Division, beating my arch rival Stan Hicks. It was one of the few times that I ever beat him. It was my first trophy of over 100. That week end 20 years ago, I became aware that skydiving was everything, with my first trophy in hand, a successful phantom pool jump recorded on film, the viewing of Johnny Carson with extended coverage of Bill Ottley explaining skydiving. I was in heaven-how could it get any better?
Little did I know it was just the beginning, that over 4,000 more parachute jumps awaited me. Including a trip on the US Team, and most importantly my wife,(who was a Pelican briefly) and family and happiness beyond my wildest dreams. Thank you Peninsula Skydivers past and present. You are “The Point” and that was the point-carry on…………………
And Tommy…we have been. But we do our pool jumps from the edge these days!