UAE - For former Dubai expat Jithin Vijay, a foray into skydiving came by chance. But now, he has set two world records by diving out of a plane from a height of 43,000 feet.

Jithin has always been sporty, having experimented with parkour, horse riding, ice skating, and more. However, it was only a year ago that he ventured into skydiving. “I wanted to climb Mount Everest this year and even trekked to the base camp in 2022,” he said, speaking to Khaleej Times over Zoom. “However, my wife was a little concerned about my safety. So, I asked her if I could skydive instead. She agreed.”

So, the IT director — who hails from the city of Kochi in the south Indian state of Kerala— headed to Spain to take an A-grade licence in skydiving. Then, he arrived in the UAE to practise his jumps. It felt like life had come full circle for him.

“When I used to live here in 2016-2017, skydiving was not at the top of my priority list,” he said. “Also, I could not really afford it. So, to come back to the city with a skydiving licence and jump several times in a day felt good.” To date, he has completed more than 200 jumps.

Last month, the skydiving enthusiast jumped from 43,000 feet, setting two Guinness world records — the first was for the longest freefall time of 2 minutes and 47 seconds. The second record he set was for the highest-altitude skydiving with a flag. “It was hard, but I am proud I was able to achieve it,” he said.

Here's a clip of the dive:

Journey to 43,000 feet

It was earlier this year that Jithin came across a retired army officer in Tennessee, US, who was coordinating a jump from 43,000 feet for the third time. “The first attempt was a failure and one person died,” he said. “The second attempt last year was a success and five people jumped. This would be the third year. He asked if I wanted to join. After thinking for a few days, I agreed.”

The jump was scheduled for July 1, 2023. He did not tell anyone about his plans, including his own family. “I didn’t want them to worry,” he said.

He only informed his skydiving partner in the UK, Nimesh. “I did not give him the details,” he said. “I just told him I will attempt a jump in the US. But he came and met me there.” When Jithin finally broke the news to Nimesh, the man was dumbfounded. “He was very nervous,” said Jithin. “And while I was performing the stunt, he paced around the location.”

Elaborate planning

According to Jithin, the dive required elaborate planning. “The first step was to do a test jump at 15,000 feet carrying an oxygen tank on the back,” he said. “This is to ensure that we have practised jumping with a tank. During the main jump, about 1.5 hours before, we start breathing in pure oxygen.”

Jithin said breathing was tough especially after boarding the plane. Two minutes before the jump, when he put on his goggles, it snapped. “Without the goggles, I wouldn’t be able to jump as it would freeze my face,” he said. “Luckily there were two spares in the plane. So a fellow skydiver quickly put it on for me.”

Ten seconds before the jump, the skydivers switched from the plane's oxygen tank to their own. “Again, it was a very calculated thing,” he said. “We only have 11 minutes’ worth of oxygen in the tank. If we deploy our parachutes a little earlier than required, we won't have enough oxygen to reach the ground.”

Once he completed the jump, Jithin said he faced several challenges. “Since I was carrying the flag, I tilted to one side,” he said. “This caused some blood clots to form in my chest and I had pain in my ribs,” he said. “Also, somehow, there was a little gap between my helmet and my suit, so some air got in between my helmet. This caused me to lose my voice for two days.”

UAE is 'home'

The UAE became Jithin's ‘home’ base where he flew in often to practise jumps. “It is important to keep jumping at least once a month,” he said. “Otherwise, you will have to learn all over again. The UAE is the perfect place for me to practise my jumping. It is just four hours away and has great facilities. So, this is where I come to practice.”

What he loves the most about the city is how welcoming it is. “I have jumped in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi,” he said. “In Dubai, everything is really professional, and you can comfortably jump up to eight times in a day. But my favourite place is Abu Dhabi. There, people treat you like family.”

Now his next aim is to attempt a group jump in Abu Dhabi. “We are a group of 16 skydivers from Kerala,” he said. “When we have 20, we want to attempt a group dive in Abu Dhabi.”

But before that, Jithin has a task ahead of him. “I have to pacify my wife a little. After this daring jump, I have lost around 6kg. She says she won’t let me attempt another jump until I put on those kilos again,” he chuckled.

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