'Highest jump' falls 2000m short of Cottrell's claim
Palmerston North man still holds recordMATHEW GROCOTT
Reports that a Queenstown man set a record this month for New Zealand's highest skydive have bemused Kevin Cottrell.
The Palmerston North man, who has 5500 jumps to his name, skydived from close to 8000 metres in 1976, and at night to boot.
He went further in 1981 when he jumped, in daylight this time, from close to 9000m, which is higher than the peak of Mt Everest.
Earlier this month Queenstown's Colin Aitchison jumped from 6096m, or 20,000 feet, and claimed to have set a national record.
Mr Cottrell has been trying to contact the Queenstown skydive instructor to chat about his efforts, and to let him know he's got a little way to go yet.
"As soon as I left the aircraft everything just fell into place," he said of the 1976 jump. "The view was just fantastic, I could see the top of Mt Egmont sticking out of the cloud, I could see Ruapehu sticking out and I could see way down the South Island."
What he could not see well was the ground because of a layer of cloud at 3000 feet, or 900m.
"I came out of the cloud, out of total darkness into woompha, all this beautiful lit-up city, I had to be careful I didn't get too carried away sightseeing though."
After pulling his chute he landed on the edge of the airfield and was soon celebrating with his ground crew and a few beers.
Mr Cottrell started skydiving as an 18-year-old and said he was instantly hooked. His first night jump was in 1974 from 900m.
"That got me hooked, it's a lot of fun, it's dangerous but if it's done properly, like anything, it's safe."
After finding out what the national record for a night jump was and deciding it was achievable he ended up in a record-setting contest with another jumper.
"I thought ‘we can better that', then this chappie down south by the name of Frank Fesche started to have a go. He got to 20,000 feet and held the record for four months."
Mr Cottrell retook the night record in that 1976 jump which took place at Milson and was reported in the Manawatu Standard.
Mr Cottrell said there were several altimeters on the aircraft which were each checked to corroborate the jump, which was down from 25,000 feet or close to 8000m.
Having claimed the night jump record, which was published in a book of New Zealand records released in 1976, Mr Cottrell wanted to see how much higher he could go.
In 1981, using oxygen gear borrowed from the air force and with an air force pilot flying a Cessna, he and two other skydivers took off from Palmerston North.
Their jump zone was over the Taonui Airfield in Feilding, where Mr Cottrell's cohorts jumped from 6000m.
Temperatures were so cold as the plane's climb reached its zenith at 29,500 feet, or close to 9000m, that ice had formed on the metal floor of the Cessna's cabin.
It was cold enough in the plane but "when I got out I was hit by this very cold blast of air", Mr Cottrell said.
There was a lot to consider when taking high-altitude jumps, Mr Cottrell said, to ensure they were done safely.
He had scaled up his jumps over the years to higher and higher altitudes, learnt how to use oxygen, how to start warm and how to make sure he did not lose any of his equipment.
Once in freefall from his record jump he checked everything was fine once again and "then it was just a matter of enjoying the freefall".
He said he calculated his freefall took two minutes and 33 seconds.
"It was concerning how long it was taking to fall."
Pulling his chute at 900m he landed safely within 2 metres of the target marked on the airfield.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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