Skydiving group gathers at Cairo airport every weekend

Sunday, August 2, 2009
Bryan Schott of Cape Girardeau is set for his first "instructor-assisted deployment" solo jump Saturday with skydiving instructor Paul Gholson over the airport at Cairo, Ill. (Fred Lynch)

CAIRO, Ill. -- Every weekend about 15 volunteers spend their time helping people overcome their boredom by jumping out of airplanes.

SEMO Skydiving has existed in some form or fashion for 25 years, according to its members. Don Dorris and Ralph Bailey used to borrow a plane in the early 1980s to skydive. Eventually they bought the plane. When people started showing up to jump, the men renewed their instructors' licenses, bought a bigger plane and, along with Don Anglin, started the club, which currently calls Cairo Regional Airport in Cairo home.

The number of new or repeat skydivers at the Cairo Airport varies. Bailey said on average 20 to 25 people will jump, perform instructor-assisted dives where an instructor pulled the cord to the parachute or jump tandem -- strapped to an experienced skydiver. As of Saturday afternoon, no one was signed up to jump today.

Jerry Galey, who performs tandem jumps with new skydivers strapped to his front, said they'll still be out there today, waiting for people or jumping themselves. Galey started skydiving in 1997.

"I brought enough to do it two times that day because I knew if I started I'd never stop," he said.

Bryan Schott of Cape Girardeau takes a last look at the dropzone from inside the airplane with instructor Paul Gholson over the airport at Cairo, Ill.

The instructors and skydivers who help with SEMO Skydiving do not get paid. The charges for jumps cover fuel and other expenses associated with the sport. Skydiving gets cheaper the more experienced a jumper gets. Instructors cost less than students, and bringing equipment lowers the cost. The tandem jump is the most expensive jump but takes the least amount of preparation -- 45 minutes of instruction.

On Saturday, Galey jumped tandem with both Jessie Snow and Ed DeGaris, a police officer and retired officer, respectively, from Poplar Bluff.

DeGaris said when he told his wife he was going skydiving she said "'Have you lost your mind?' I said, 'Not yet. Ask me when I get down.'"

Bryan Schott walks back to the hangar after his first skydive. (Fred Lynch)

At 10 a.m. Saturday he was craning his neck to watch Snow float down. Forty-five minutes later, DeGaris was 10,500 feet in the air, jumping out of a Cessna 206.

"I loved it," he said after having fallen to the ground at about 120 mph. "You don't even feel like you're moving."

Dorris has been jumping out of airplanes for roughly 55 years. As a young man he was a paratrooper in the Army, but his first attempt at some form of skydiving came at age 6.

Jessie Snow of Poplar Bluff, Mo. completes his first tandem skydive with instructor Jerry Galey Saturday at the Cairo, Ill. airport. (Fred Lynch)

He accompanied his family to the train station to send his uncle off during World War II. Dorris said he was upset because he wasn't going with his uncle. When he got home, 6-year-old Dorris took a sheet from the clothesline and jumped off the roof of the hog shed, landing in the hog pen with a sow and several young pigs.

"Oh, that hog liked to eat me alive," he said, laughing.

Dorris' partner Bailey said SEMO Skydiving has moved around. They have jumped in Cape Girardeau, Sikeston, Mo., and Kennett, Mo., but the group settled in Cairo because they have more space and less air traffic to work around.

With temperatures in the mid-80s, a light breeze and high clouds, Saturday was a perfect day to jump out of an airplane, according to Bill Fone.

Fone has been jumping since 1974. During the week, Fone works in aircraft maintenance for FedEx in Memphis, Tenn. On the weekends, he drives from Tennessee, camps by the airport and skydives all day. He's jumped roughly 1,800 times and has yet to tire of the sport.

Doris Dumey, another SEMO Skydiving member, met her husband Craig skydiving. Dumey is the first to admit they teach and jump with people because they love to skydive. After 800 jumps, Dumey still screams with joy on the way down.

"This is the closest thing you can experience to flying," she said. "The sense of freedom is unbelievable."


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pertinent address: Route 3, Cairo, IL

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