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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 January, 2004, 13:36 GMT
Skydive record for royal birthday
By Sebastian Usher
BBC News

A skydiver with the Thai flags lands near the Grand Palace in Bangkok
The skydivers landed near the Grand Palace
Hundreds of daredevils have taken to the skies above Bangkok to set a world record and mark the queen's birthday.

The skydivers swooped in their hundreds out of six transport planes, more than 2,000 metres above the temples and skyscrapers of the Thai capital.

Nearly 700 skydivers from 42 countries took part in the colourful display.

But the mass free fall did not go entirely smoothly as a strong wind blew a few of the divers off course, leaving their parachutes tangled in trees.

Spectacular sights

Most of the divers were members of a group called World Team, but they were joined by 250 parachutists from the Thai armed forces.

For the people of Bangkok, the sight was spectacular as the divers soared and then floated down in bright blue and yellow suits and parachutes.

Skydivers above Bangkok
It was beautiful seeing Bangkok from freefall
For the divers themselves, it was an unparalleled rush of adrenalin.

"It was the most exciting thing I have ever done in my life - to open [my parachute] over this beautiful large city and just see everything down below - the river, the palace, this field and all the people. It was an incredibly exciting moment," one woman said.

A fellow skydiver described his experience as "absolutely amazing" and praised the organisation of the Thai air force.

"It was beautiful seeing Bangkok from freefall and to see so many canopies in the air. This doesn't happen anywhere in the world, this was a world first and it's an amazing tribute to the Thai Government to be able to organise it," he said.

The divers' landing zone was the royal park opposite the Grand Palace.

Most sailed down with little trouble, but a few were blown off course and ended up with their parachutes tangled in trees.

One or two landed badly and had to be taken away on stretchers, but their injuries were not reported to be serious.

Birthday milestone

A spokeswoman for the jump said the casualties were a surprise as there had been no problems in practice.

"We've had extensive rehearsal jumps here today and there were not supposed to be any injuries," she said.

"We were all confident that everybody would land inside [the zone]."

The mass skydive was not just about setting a new record. It also marked the beginning of months of celebration to mark Queen Sirikit of Thailand's 72nd birthday.

This is an important milestone for Thai Buddhists as it represents the sixth 12-year cycle of life - which is why exactly 672 skydivers were chosen to take part in the jump.

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