ATLANTIC CITY — U.S. Army Sgt. Rachel Medley surveyed her surroundings on the beach at Florida Avenue on Sunday afternoon, looking for tall obstacles, a secure exit path and a place to access medical care, if necessary.
In three days, Medley, a free fall photographer and videographer with the U.S. Army Golden Knights, will be parachuting out of a plane anywhere from 2,000 to 12,500 feet above the city to land on a patch of beach that measures 90 feet wide and 130 feet long.
That’s comparatively large, said Medley, noting that the team has landed in areas about half that size. Medley, 33, arrived in Atlantic City on Sunday to view the landing area or “drop zone” and begin making preparations for herself and the other eight to 10 members of the Golden Knights, who will perform in the Atlantic City Airshow on Wednesday.
Ideally, all of the Golden Knights will visit the drop zone located next to Boardwalk Hall before the skydive. But just in case, Medley, 33, takes a video with her iPhone so all team members are guaranteed a visual of the space.
The team must remain at least 50 feet away from all obstacles standing 100 feet tall. They also must be on the lookout for any buildings that are downwind and could pose a hazard.
“There are no obstacles here. If we were doing this show today, we’d come in overhead towards the ocean, get out and let the wind carry us back to shore,” Medley said. “The day of the show, the wind could be coming from another direction and that will change. We throw wind streamers — like crepe paper with weights attached — right before we jump. That tells us exactly what direction the wind is coming from.”
The team also has secured a larger backup drop zone measuring 300 feet long and 300 feet wide in front of the Atlantic City Hilton Casino Resort. That space could be used if any problems arise.
Weather is a concern, said David Schultz, air boss of the resort’s show since its revival in 2004. He and Tom Foley, Atlantic City’s emergency management coordinator, walked the beach near Florida Avenue with Medley on Sunday afternoon, also looking to spot any potential problems.
The walk was one of many around the show area for Schultz, who is on the lookout for anything that the pilots will need to be alerted about.
With rain Sunday night and AccuWeather predicting a 60 percent chance of showers during the day today, there’s a possibility that the beach could erode to a smaller size by Wednesday, Schultz said.
Still, there are advantages to doing an airshow at the shore, Medley said. The air tends to be thicker due to humidity, so that makes it easier to maneuver. The day of the show, the team will be looking at cloud cover and wind before jumping. If any gusts more than 20 mph are recorded on the ground, the jumps will be called off she said.
“We are absolutely at the mercy of the weather,” Medley said. “We can change what kinds of parachutes we use and where the plane flies, but we can’t change the weather.”
On the day of the show, Schultz and another organizer will be spotting from the ground and a third individual will be located on top of Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino to look out for any problems otherwise blocked by the buildings.
On Sunday, Schultz said he was confident in what he sees, aside from one potential obstacle — a crane stationed in from of the Revel casino, slated to open in May 2012.
He asked Foley, the emergency management director, to find out if the crane will be operating the day of the show so he can alert the pilots, if necessary.
“If it’s something that’s in motion, it has to be considered,” Schultz said. “That’s one of the things we have to look out for.”
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