x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

UAE quartet take a leap into large Oman cave complex

Majlis Al Jinn cave complex in Oman tempts intrepid Dubai-based team to take the plunge and freefall into its dark, intimidating abyss.

Cave jumpers take part in a jump into Majilis Al Jin in Oman, one of the world's largest indoor cave chambers. Courtesy of Noah Bahnson, SkyDive Dubai
Cave jumpers take part in a jump into Majilis Al Jin in Oman, one of the world's largest indoor cave chambers. Courtesy of Noah Bahnson, SkyDive Dubai

DUBAI // Four of the UAE's boldest daredevils jumped, flailed and backflipped their way into the 158-metre deep Majlis Al Jinn cave this weekend.

The team from Skydive Dubai were the first to take the leap into one of the world's largest cave chambers since Felix Baumgartner did so in 2007.

Mr Baumgartner, who in October last year made history when he jumped from an altitude of 39,000m over New Mexico, caught the attention of Omani authorities who closed the cave off to any similar stunts.

The Skydive Dubai team – consisting of Chris Pope, Mike Swanson, Noah Bahnson and Matt Lajeneusse – got permission from the Omani government before their jump on Thursday.

"I had a bit of an idea of what to expect because I've jumped into a cave before and none of the others had," said Mr Pope, a 44-year-old photo video manager at Skydive Dubai.

At the start of the jump, the daredevils stood on the edge of a simple hole in the ground starring into a black abyss.

"Generally, there is a lot of instinct kicking in," Mr Pope said. "It overrides everything else."

Base-jumpers' chutes are designed to move the parachutist forward immediately on opening to keep them away from the cliff face or the building, but the team had to make sure they were clear of the walls of a 20-30 metre chimney at the cave mouth before they could pull the cord.

"We know how fast gravity excels and basically we can count in our heads," Mr Pope said. "It's a pretty thin line."

Once past the chimney, the cave opens into a cavern that is lit by Asterisk, a small hole in the 40-metre thick rock, that acts as a skylight.

"Looking into the cave, I couldn't see anything beyond the black and when I jumped in and the chute opened and I got out into the light, all of a sudden my eyes adjusted.

"All this happened in a split second and suddenly I'm starting to see all of the formations on the floor and the shape of the walls and it's both eerie and exciting all at once," Mr Pope said.

He has more than 800 jumps – from buildings, aerials, spans and earth – under his belt, including the Cave of Swallows in Mexico.

"It's pretty high up there as one of my most memorable jumps," said Mr Pope. "Amazing doesn't really do it justice."

John Falchetto, who filmed the jump, said: "They didn't go down at first to take a look at what they'd be jumping into. Noah backflipped into it having zero idea of what was in there.

"They all said it was very intimidating and they've done tens of thousands of jumps between them."

eharnan@thenational.ae