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Swiss pilots join historic Everest skydive

Skydivers have never tackled the Everest region before Shanker Pradhananga

Two Swiss pilots are taking part in a groundbreaking parachute jump in the Nepalese Himalayas in early October.

This content was published on September 29, 2008 - 11:31

Ruedi Isenschmid and Henri Schurch are flying from Switzerland to Mount Everest in a Pilatus Porter plane, which will be used to transport skydivers doing one of the most spectacular jumps in the world.

This is the first time the Nepalese government has issued permits for such an adventure in the Everest Region.

Isenschmid and Schurch will take 42 hours over five days to fly the Swiss-made plane to the newly created Himalayan republic.

"Ruedi and Henri are two of the best pilots in the world and if anyone can fly this plane higher than the top of Everest, they can," said Nigel Gifford of High & Wild, the organisers of this event.

On Thursday, 32 courageous people from different countries will be poised to jump from 8,990m -slightly higher than Everest - and land on the world's highest dropzone at Syangboche, 3,833m above Namche Bazaar.

"It began with an idea, which then became a dream and now is reality," Gifford said.

The British ex-mountaineer and skydiver never thought this could be possible. But when he saw a Pilatus Porter plane land on the airstrip at Syangboche a few years ago, the idea was born.

"I was convinced that we could pull this off, we just needed the plane and two good pilots for this."

Reconnaissance

In May this year, a team of skydivers used a helicopter to test jump from a height of about 5,000m to try the special gear needed for this altitude.

"Jumping at such an altitude requires specially designed clothes to cope with temperatures as low as minus 40C, extra large parachutes to account for the increased speed of the freefall and a relatively light oxygen system," said Ryan Jackson, the team's doctor and a professional skydiver.

Other than coping with the breathtaking views, one of the main challenges the jumpers will be faced with is the effect of high altitude.

"To acclimatise it is important to get as far as Pheriche, which lies just short of Everest Base Camp at 4,250m," the doctor explained. The six-day trek will take them through the magnificent landscape of the Himalayas before the jumpers return to the drop zone.

Most of the men and women from all walks of life have never been to the Himalayas before. Depending on the type of jump, they have had to cough up between £12,675 (SFr25,630) and £16,870 (SFr34,100),

"The thing I'm looking forward to most is just seeing Everest, it will be amazing," said Holly Budge, a 29-year-old professional filmmaker and skydiver from Britain.

The solo jumpers are required to have at least 200 dives under their belt. However, with a maximum weight of 95kg, the tandem jumpers should have as little flab under their belt as possible.

Most of the skydiving support team, which includes high profile experts like cosmonaut Andy Elson and the world champion skydiver Omar Alhegelan, are currently setting up their infrastructure at Syangboche.

Despite its historic nature, the Everest event will not be the highest skydive in the world.

In 1960, US Air Force Captain Joseph Kittinger sailed a helium balloon to the edge of space and jumped from 31,300m wearing just a thin pressure suit. His free fall of four minutes and 36 seconds into the New Mexico Desert has not been repeated to this day.

swissinfo, Billi Bierling in Kathmandu

High dive

The history of parachuting is a bit patchy. The first person to attempt to parachute was Frenchman Jacques Garnerin, who jumped from his air balloon at the end of the 18th Century. In the 19th century, Kathie Paulus became famous for skydiving in Germany and is now famous for these feats and her demonstratable skills.

Skydiving has become a popular adventure sport all over the world, however, this is the first time people will jump in the Everest region in Nepal. The Swiss-made Pilatus Porter plane, which is flown in especially from Switzerland, will take off and land at the highest airstrip in the world at Syangboche (3,833m).

The jumpers will free fall for one minute, racing past some of the most spectacular views in the world They will spend a further four minutes under canopy before landing on the narrow grass airstrip.

Before the jump, which is due to take place on October 2, the 32 participants and their supporters will be trekking to Pheriche, which at 4,250m lies on the way to Everest Base Camp.

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