Hernando commissioner jumps with West Point Parachute Team

BROOKSVILLE — About 3 p.m. Friday, Hernando County Commissioner David Russell stepped aboard the Free Fall Express, a green and white De Havilland Twin Otter out of Zephyrhills.

The plane quickly filled with West Point cadets, all spending their week of spring break at the Hernando County Airport.

Wearing goggles and a tight black leather helmet and zipped tightly into a banana-colored suit, Russell was ready. The cadets had invited local officials connected to the airport to join them in a jump, and Russell had accepted.

West Point Parachute Team head coach Tom Falzone, 49, had buckled, strapped and clipped a black harness over Russell's suit.

On the back of the harness was a bright orange warning: "Danger! Peligro! Gafahr! Parachute systems sometimes fail to operate correctly even when properly maintained, assembled, packed, and unpacked."

For Falzone, with nearly 11,000 jumps behind him, one more with the commissioner was simply all in a day's work.

Russell, who had a granola bar and black coffee six hours earlier, said he was stoked.

With 365 square feet of nylon tucked tightly into a backpack, Falzone and Russell jumped at 12,500 feet, free-falling at 120 mph for about 45 seconds before releasing the canopy.

Five minutes later, they landed — upright.

"Soft landing. Tippy-toe," Falzone said.

Several others affiliated with the airport would be next for a chance to experience a free fall and the few moments of silence under a canopy floating back to earth.

Russell, 54, tapped his white Avia tennis shoes and smiled. In a moment, he would peel off his yellow suit to reveal a polo shirt with his name embroidered on one side and the official seal of Hernando County on the other.

He got into his bright red Viper SRT-10, scratched "skydiving" off his bucket list and drove to lunch. He was starved.

Shary Lyssy Marshall can be reached at slmarshall.sptimes@gmail.com.

Hernando commissioner jumps with West Point Parachute Team 03/19/10 [Last modified: Saturday, March 20, 2010 1:20pm]

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