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Original Issue

Fall Down and Go Bloom

Blossoming into a giant flower, 18 intrepid skydivers locked hands in a great circle over the San Francisco Bay Area this summer and claimed a world record for formation jumping. The divers, who call their pastime "relative work," began relating at 13,500 feet when they bailed out of three small, close-flying aircraft at five-second intervals. The earliest flattened out to slow their descent, the last dove head first at 180 mph to catch up at 4,500. They held together for five seconds (about 1,000 feet) as two barely missed widening the circle of friends, two more went astray and Photographer Ray Cottingham—who jumped, too—snapped away with a camera mounted on his helmet. Remarkably, all 23 landed softly within a few hundred feet of each other in a targeted plowed field.