Parachutist sets record - maybe
Staff Sgt. Ben Borger, Golden Knights U.S. Army Parachute Team, talks to the media April 14, 2010, after jumping out of an Air Force C-17 near Altus Air Force Base. His team believes he set another world record for distance flying in a wing-suit after jumping out at 32,000 feet and landing safely 11.5 miles away. (Photo by Marie Berberea)

FORT SILL, Okla.--It was the biggest squirrel Dustin Spradlin has probably ever seen -- and a flying one at that. The creature landed next to his farmland April 14 outside Altus Air Force Base. Spradlin could not believe his eyes when Staff Sgt. Ben Borger of the U.S. Army Parachute Team, Golden Knights, walked up in his wing suit and introduced himself.

"He actually saw me when my parachute opened and under canopy. Of course, I was about three or four miles away and he didn't believe what he was seeing so, he went back to work. When I hiked up to him and he saw me with all my equipment and the oxygen mask and helmet he was like, 'I guess I was right. I guess I did see a parachutist,'" said Borger.

It was all part of Borger's record-breaking attempt out of an Air Force C-17 earlier that morning. He and his crew believe he accomplished what he set out to do, which was to once again break the world record for distance in wing-suit flying.

Borger set the U.S. record in Yuma, Ariz., last year by jumping at 25,000 feet and free falling and gliding 10 miles from the drop zone. This year, confirmations from the flight crew say he surpassed that record by dropping 11.5 miles from 32,000 feet.

"I'm excited, you know. Not only am I representing the team, it's also putting the team's name out there for conquering the skies when it comes to sport parachuting," Borger said of his jump.
The suit he donned did look like a flying squirrel, with wings that inflate and cells that fill with air.

The parachute harness also incorporates oxygen equipment meant to withstand freezing temperatures and high altitudes.

"Over in Iraq and Afghanistan there's military operations that happen with special operations Soldiers that have to jump in at night from upwards of 30,000 feet and these oxygen masks are just one of those things that's going to help the war fighter out on the ground have the best equipment," said Borger.

Spradlin and Borger crossed paths after cloudy skies forced Borger to change his flight pattern. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, a parachute operation is not allowed to go into or through clouds for safety reasons. Borger followed the guidelines, which took him away from his intended landing area on the Air Force base and into Spradlin's neck of the woods, or farmland for that matter.

"If it wasn't for him (Spradlin) I'd either still be walking or trying to hitch hike down Highway 62," said Borger.

Despite being up since 3 o'clock in the morning, Borger was in great spirits. His crew met at Altus Air Force Base at 4:30 a.m. to determine where the winds were coming from as well as any other precautions needed as far as weather. Afterward the crew prepped the equipment making sure it was safe before using it so many thousands of feet in the air. They also had to prebreath oxygen through a mask for at least an hour before take off to get all the nitrogen out of their bodies.
"If you don't get the nitrogen out of your system and you go to altitude you'll get what's called altitude sickness or 'the bends,'" said Borger. "You start getting joint pain and neurological problems or even death."

Around 7:30 a.m. they took off and started climbing to the designated 32,000 feet. Borger jumped out and although it took a lot longer than expected for the rest of his team to actually find him afterward, he still considers the whole event a success.

"You know I walked away from it and we're here to talk about it, so honestly I wouldn't say there were too many hiccups," said Borger. "I had a cellphone, but out there it didn't even work. I was holding it and was like well no service, I guess I'll start walking."

Borger said his team specifically chose Altus Air Force Base for two main reasons. First, the 58th Wing had been very helpful in coordinating the event and secondly, in case he needed to land in an unplanned area like he did there was plenty of open land to choose from.

As far as jumping out of airplanes for a living Borger said it never gets old. "I've always been adventurous, that's one of the reasons why I joined the Army. I'm an airborne infantryman, that's my job in the Army. I joined the Army straight out of high school because I wanted to do things that were fun and adventurous and I'm getting paid to do something that I love. You know, I love serving in the military, serving in the Army and I love skydiving. So it's the best of both worlds."

The Golden Knights are gathering statements from all witnesses as well as the air crew and are sending them off to the Guinness World Records to put Borger and his team's accomplishment into the history books.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16