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Skydive West Plains hosted first annual wingsuit weekend

| July 24, 2020 12:12 AM

RITZVILLE — As the aircraft approached 18,000 feet on Sunday afternoon, the door opened and poured in a cold air, much different from the warm temperatures the passengers had left behind. One by one, with screams of excitement lost in the gush of air, seven people leapt out of a perfectly good airplane.

This was just one of numerous trips into the sky as wingsuiters and skydivers took advantage of the sunny weather last weekend, falling through the Central Washington sky back down toward a small airstrip off Interstate 90 in Ritzville.

Skydive West Plains hosted their first annual West Plains Wingsuit Weekend from July 17-19. Wingsuit skydivers getting started were invited to come out for coaching, lessons and safety tips.

Nikko Mamallo was one of the seven who jumped out of the plane on Sunday afternoon, far from his first jump of the weekend. Mamallo has more than 2000 career skydives, and teaches first-flight wingsuit courses as well as advanced wingsuit skills.

Mamallo, who came out and helped coach for the event, said he, wingsuit coach Braden Roseborough and Skydive West Plains team member Kara Kruse had been discussing a wingsuit event at the Ritzville drop zone for a while now.

“We’ve been talking about it for a while, getting more people excited about wingsuiting,” Mamallo said.

For the first time ever at Skydive West Plains, Mamallo said they had full planes consisting of only wingsuiters. While they didn’t have any first time wingsuit jumps, he said the weekend really allowed for a spot for people just getting started to work on some more intermediate skills.

The event was a great chance for wingsuiters to build some confidence and excitement, Mamallo said.

“When you go to some of the larger drop zones, it’s a lot easier to get lost in the mix of everything,” Mamallo said. “There’s so many people there, and it’s not just us in the sky.”

For last weekend, Mamallo said it worked out great because all of the wingsuiters could learn, and jump, in the same groups.

Kara Kruse said they were able to really start hosting jumps, and events, again in July due to COVID-19 restrictions. While she said she knows skydivers have been itching for an opportunity to jump, she said they’ve tried to take things slowly.

“We’ve been taking it easy because we had such a long layoff that we wanted to make sure we’re doing everything safely and within the COVID guidelines,” Kruse said. “But we’re staying busy and having fun.”

Kruse said they were completely booked up for the weekend, with the exception of one or two openings for tandem skydivers. She said wingsuit skydiving is really a specialty type of skydiving, and licensed skydivers are required to have a minimum of 200 jumps before they can take part.

Kruse said they have some customers who make 200-500 jumps each year.

The weekend event focused mostly on beginning wingsuiters, with safety lessons on flocking, or multiple people flying together in close proximity. With some of the coaches coming out to participate, Kruse said, the event allowed people just getting started to learn from individuals with a lot of experience.

Kruse said added measures for COVID-19 included checking temperatures when people arrive, having them sign a waiver and asking the normal COVID-19-related procedural questions. Masks were required in the hangar at all times, and any time outside when social distancing measures were not met.

“We also required masks inside the airplane,” Kruse said. “We’re opening the door of the airplane from about 3,500 to 5,500 feet to get new fresh air coming in. And then we take the masks off less than one minute before we exit the aircraft so we’re minimizing the time we’re close together sharing the same air.”

Masks could hardly hide the excitement over the weekend, however, as virtually every person coming back to Earth came down with a smile.

Casey McCarthy can be reached via email at cmcarthy@columbiabasinherald.com.

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The last wingsuiter left in the plane lowers his head as he leaps out behind his six fellow skydivers on Sunday afternoon over Ritzville.

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Braden Roseborough gives one last look at his fellow jumpers before making the leap out inin the chilly air at 18,000 feet on Sunday afternoon over Ritzville.

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Pilot Dan Jones checks the instruments in his plane as he ascends to drop a load of wingsuiters over Ritzville on Sunday afternoon.

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Nikko Mamallo captures a shot of his fellow wingsuiters as they slowly head back toward the earth on Sunday, July 19.

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Nikko Mamallo gets suited up inside the hangar at Skydive West Plains before his jump on Sunday afternoon.

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Left to right: Eric Herhager, Lauren Herhager, Eli Weber, Nikko Hall, Braden Roseborough and Ryan Wilson pose together in front of the hangar at Skydive West Plains in Ritzville before a jump on Sunday, July 19.

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Wingsuiters practice some formations on the ground before ascending for their jump on Sunday afternoon at Skydive West Plains in Ritzville.

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Moments before their jump, wingsuiters enjoy a lighthearted moment before descending back down to Earth from 18,000 feet.

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Inside the mock-up area outside of the hangar, designed to match the exact dimensions of the plane itself, wingsuiters prepare for their jump on Sunday afternoon at Skydive West Plains in Ritzville.