Wind takes Cobra Gold jumpers on rough ride
KORAT, Thailand — U.S. Army Maj. William Clark got to know the ground in Thailand a little better than he wanted to during the Cobra Gold 2004 exercise, which wraps up this week.
Clark, of the 1st Special Forces Group out of Fort Lewis, Wash., participated in a “friendship jump” with Royal Thai Army paratroopers Wednesday. When the aircraft carrying the paratroopers took off from Korat, in central Thailand, it was a hot, calm day — perfect conditions for jumping.
However, soon after takeoff the wind gusted up to 20 knots. Once the wind speed gets over 13 knots, paratroopers said, they’re not supposed to jump until it has fallen below that speed for at least 10 minutes. So when Clark and four other paratroopers jumped and inflated their parachutes, they found themselves careening across the sky with no hope of hitting the drop zone.
Clark’s recollection of what happened next is hazy.
“I think the wind came up … I was in the aircraft … jumped … couldn’t make the drop zone so we had to improvise. I ended up landing in a field, I think,” he said.
It was at this point that Clark became acquainted with the ground. And by the looks of his face shortly afterward, it was not the soft, grassy ground found in most parts of Thailand. The blow knocked the soldier out cold and left him covered in scratches and dirt with a suspected broken nose.
Thai and U.S. medics treated Clark shortly after landing.
“I got knocked out, but seem to be OK,” he said, expressing more concern about his broken sunglasses than his injuries.
Army Capt. Richard Guess of Special Operations Theater Support Element Pacific out of Fort Shafter, Hawaii, also missed the drop zone.
“Everybody in the first pass missed the jump zone. I was worried about landing on a power line. I just missed a building,” he said.
U.S. soldiers’ parachutes are maneuverable and have a top speed of 12 knots, he said.
“You can’t go forward into the wind but you can go left and right. Into a 12-knot wind you can go straight down. If you turn with the wind you can go up to 30 knots,” he said.
The Thai parachutes are not as maneuverable, he added.
“They can turn left or right. Those chutes were made for when a lot of [inexperienced] people are jumping at the same time,” he said. “If you have maneuverable chutes and a lot of people in the air they can run into each other, get tangled.”
The most maneuverable parachutes are the High Altitude, Low Opening parachutes used by Special Forces, he said.
“They can fly long distances and land almost exactly where they want to land,” he said.
The U.S. soldiers jumped with the Thais to show unity in the airborne community, Guess said.
“If somebody jumps out of planes it doesn’t matter what country you are from — you all share a special feeling,” he said. The Thailand jump was the highlight of Cobra Gold for Guess.
The veteran paratrooper has made 82 jumps but said he still felt a rush leaping from 1,250 feet over Korat.
“Up in the aircraft when they open the ramp and the wind starts howling it is a good feeling,” he said.