Zhao FangJun, 30, was a bit intimidated when he prepared for his first skydiving jump at 1,500 meters above the ground. Now, after many years as a paratrooper for the Chinese Army, the fear has given way to pure enjoyment as he takes in the awe-inspiring views when he parachutes.
Fangjun joined the army 12 years ago and now works as parachuting instructor, helping others face their initial fears.
The brigade he belongs to is part of the No 80 Army Group of People’s Liberation Army, which dates back to 1947. It has been recognized during periods of war and peace for its outstanding service. It is also the only special force to receive the collective top-grade merit citation.
The troop’s specialty is parachuting, having completed more than 3,000 jumps this year alone.
“When an emergency occurs, parachuting is often the fastest way to send troops into the key area,” said Fangjun, who participated in rescue missions after the devastating earthquake in Wenchuan in 2008, when brigade paratroopers were able to effectively land in the quake’s epicenter.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “The May 2008 quake flattened some four-fifths of the structures in the affected area. Whole villages and towns in the mountains were destroyed, and many schools collapsed.
“Almost 90,000 people were counted as dead or missing and presumed dead in the final official Chinese government assessment; the officially reported total killed included more than 5,300 children, the bulk of them students attending classes.
“China’s government quickly deployed 130,000 soldiers and other relief workers to the stricken area, but the damage from the earthquake made many remote villages difficult to reach, and the lack of modern rescue equipment caused delays that might have contributed to the number of deaths.”
Parachuting, however, is not without its risks.
“When learning how to dive in water, soldiers will have a safety rope attached to them and they will be pulled out of the water in case of emergency. However, when practicing parachute landing, they have no one to rely on except themselves,” said An Weiwei, a skydiving instructor for the brigade.
A failed skydiving attempt can result in serious injury or even death.
Fangjun was involved in a near-fatal accident with a fellow soldier who misjudged the disconnecting device of the parachute for a release device. The result was that half the parachute became detached, causing the soldier to free-fall rapidly. Though the paratrooper survived, the incident created a sense of alarm in the Army.
Skydiving requires extensive training and strict assessments. Soldiers unsure of their ability to jump will be subject to further training or psychological consultations.
“We will never push them to do it if they are not ready,” said Wu Zhongliang, the political commissar for the brigade. “Skydiving is of high risk and we should take nothing for granted.”
One of the keys to a successful jump is the proper folding of the parachute, which may not function correctly or open on time during a skydiving operation if not handled accurately.
“Folding a parachute requires no less delicacy as broidery and it allows not the slightest mistakes,” Wu said.
Given the attention to detail during parachuting maneuvers, there have been no injuries reported during the more than 3,000 jumps in this past year.