The big leap

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They spend two months training for a three-second fall.

But members of the Southern Airport Club (SAC) say it's worth it.

Since it was founded in 2006, Air Division 370 has schooled curious Saigonese in a wide range of sky sports-everything from skydiving, paragliding, paramotor (PPG) to remote-controlled airplane lessons.

These days, skydiving is the most popular course on offer.

On a recent Sunday, fifty eager enthusiasts had gathered at the Bien Hoa Airport in Dong Nai Province, 30 kilometers away from Ho Chi Minh City, for their first solo jump.

They had spent VND2 million (US$100) and taken two months of training lessons to prepare for today.

Thuy Tram, 26, one of the few female parachuting trainees at the club said that the certification process ranged from terrifying to dull.

"The class taught us about equipment, aircrafts, freefall, parachute operations and how to properly land. The instructors are professional pilots and skydiving experts," she said.

Pham Duy Long, better known as Long Loco, a paragliding instructor, stood by to assist with their first jump.

After the roll-call, the students undergo a quick health check before piling into a waiting helicopter in groups of four.

The chopper flies up to 900 meters and tosses out a parachute fitted with a sandbag to determine the wind heading. The students leap out into space for a brief, if not exhilarating, free fall adventure.

The jumpers pull the ripcord and their chutes deploy.

If the string fails, an automatic timer kicks out the chute. The experience can be positively mesmerizing.

"Time seemed to stop when I was in free fall," said Thanh Tung, a photographer. "After opening the smaller chute (decoy) and the main one, I knew I'd be okay. So I started contemplating the stunning scene cityscape, unhurriedly. Then I remembered that I had to adjust the chute to land. But I could not. Instead of coming down on the grass landing pad, I touched down on the runway far from the intended finishing spot."

If you are healthy, between 16 and 35 years old and love the skies, register for one of the exciting courses at the SAC club office, 286 Hoang Hoa Tham Street, Ward 13, HCMC.

The course takes place every weekend and focuses on chute and skydiving theory, practice with helicopter and troubleshooting.

The course actually costs VND5 million but students only have to pay VND2 million because the rest is covered by the Ministry of Defense.

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