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A perfect day for skydiving in Detroit Lakes

Dan Welter of New York Mills gets ready to hop in the plane that will take him up 10,000 feet for his first skydiving jump. Nathan Bowe/Tribune1 / 8
A member of Skydive Fargo helps Scott Schroeder of Perham gear up for his first-ever jump. Nathan Bowe/Tribune2 / 8
Friends and family watch their loved ones come down in tandem jumps with trained skydivers Friday at the airport in Detroit Lakes. Nathan Bowe/Tribune3 / 8
Skydiver Greg Arens of Fargo walks back to the hangar from the landing area, carrying a load of gear after a jump. Nathan Bowe/Tribune4 / 8
The weather was perfect for skydiving at the Detroit Lakes-Becker County Airport on Friday. Skydive Fargo offered $250 tandem skydive jumps as part of the water carnival festivities in Detroit Lakes. Nathan Bowe/Tribune5 / 8
Coming in for a landing: With nice soft grass to land on, it's easier for both tandem partners to come in for a sliding stop on their behinds than to try to run to a stop while tethered together. Nathan Bowe/Tribune6 / 8
Skydiver Trisha Roy of Duluth folds up a parachute to repack it for the next trip down. Skydive Fargo hosted the event as part of the Northwest Water Carnival in Detroit Lakes. Nathan Bowe/Tribune7 / 8
Tom and Emily Knese of Fargo went skydiving in Detroit Lakes Friday for Emily's birthday. Nathan Bowe/Tribune8 / 8

The sun was shining, the sky was blue, the breeze was gentle —Friday afternoon was the perfect time to climb into a small airplane, spiral slowly up to 10,000 feet, and drop out of the sky roaring like Lucifer falling from Heaven.

Wearing a parachute, of course, and attached to a member of the Skydive Fargo club, which was providing the $250 jumps as part of the Northwest Water Carnival in Detroit Lakes.

"That was super fun," said Max Ommen of Fargo, pumped up from the jump as he walked the short distance from the grassy landing area back to the starting point, a hangar at the Detroit Lakes-Becker County Airport.

"It was a blast—super great," said his jumping partner Alyssa Zachman of Fargo.

Not everybody felt so great afterwards. One man stayed on the grass on his hands and knees for several minutes, catching his breath. "Looks like we've got a puker," said one of the skydivers casually watching from the hangar. Mercifully, the man recovered and walked over with his dignity, and lunch, intact. It's rare, but people do sometimes get sick on the way down, a skydiver said.

Not Tom and Emily Knese of Fargo, married six years with no kids and no kids planned. "If something were to go wrong (skydiving) there'd only be a cat at home to worry about," joked Tom.

With being nervous and the smaller plane, the trip up to 10,000 feet seemed to take a long time, he said. The trip down—not so much.

"You free fall for 40 seconds, then the 'chute opens and you seem to get down pretty fast," she said. Skydivers get about five minutes of parachute time before landing.

Tom started a fund among family and friends to give Emily a skydiving experience for her 30th birthday. "It's something I always wanted to do," she said. There ended up being enough in the fund for both of them to go skydiving together.

"They let you have control of the 'chute for a while, I turned hard left, then I turned hard right, it was a lot of fun," he said.

Dan Welter of New York Mills said he was talked into the skydiving trip by two of his daughters—Katie and Samantha Welter of Perham and Samantha's boyfriend Scott Schroeder of Perham.

Heights have never been a problem for Welter, who worked as a tuckpointer on brick buildings, including high up on the 325-foot Nebraska State Capitol building in Lincoln.

"We got lucky and got beautiful weather," he said. "I woke up at 5 a.m. and it was cloudy and icky, I was thinking 'I hope it doesn't stay like this.'"

Katie was fired up for skydiving. She has traveled by zipline and climbed the bridge in Sydney Harbor, but had never skydived before.

The sport can get into your blood, said Sean Maki of Fargo, who does videography for the skydiving club. He first tried skydiving when he was 18. "It ended up being the coolest thing I'd ever done," he said, and he has been blissfully hooked for the last 10 years. He said he has made about 1,450 jumps. As videographer, he operates a helmet-based video camera on the way down, keeping below or parallel to the skydiver that's paying for the video. It's not always easy to keep it in frame while steering and adjusting his own parachute.

Skydiving gets substantially less expensive after you buy your own gear and complete the 25 jumps required in the training program to get a basic "A" license. Then it only costs about $22 per jump, he said.

Of course, that still adds up if you want to do a lot of skydiving, so qualified skydivers will often help out at skydiving events. "That's why I'm working today," said Karl Lips of St. Paul, who has 22 years of experience and was there helping people make tandem jumps, with the instructor in back and the student in front.

Landing with another person haltered in front of you isn't the hard part, although that can be a little tricky. "Most of the time we just slide in on our butts," he said. "It's easier than doing the four-legged run."

The tough part is actually leaving the plane while linked together. "You start out sitting, then put a foot out on the step, then pivot on the foot," he said.

The parachutes are packed in a way that allows them to open slowly. A chute that opens too fast will subject the skydiver to a gravitational force (G-force) of perhaps 10 or 15 G's, he said. Even a normal slow opening usually produces 3 or 4 Gs, he said.

All skydivers wear secondary emergency parachutes that are triggered automatically by speed or altitude, designed to protect a skydiver who blacks out or otherwise can't open the primary parachute.

It's rare, Lips said, but he has seen secondary parachutes open, and it's always a hard opening because they're designed to open fast. "Inattention to altitude," by the skydiver is usually to blame, he said.

Skydive Fargo has 30 to 35 active members and owns two airplanes. It offers tandem jumps and also teaches skydiving to those looking to become licensed.