By Xayxana Leukai
March 9, 2013
Thousands of people in Xayaboury province had their eyes turned skywards to focus on an army helicopter, as a team of parachutists jumped out when the door opened.
The crowd had gathered for the opening ceremony of the Elephant Festival last month, and feasted their eyes on the daring actions of the team of army experts.
The team was led by Lieutenant Souphavanh Kilachanh, 36, and their exploits earned the congratulations on the onlookers after they landed smoothly and safely. The jump brought Souphavanh’s tally to more than the 1,000 since she joined the army in 1995.
She was the first woman in the whole of Laos to brave the jump down from a helicopter when she was employed with Battalion 702 in Xieng Khuang province 18 years ago.
“Some men and women were afraid to jump from such a height,” she recalls, adding that for her it was different as she really wanted to follow suit when she saw the men jumping.
Souphavanh is frequently invited to lead her team in entertaining spectators during opening ceremonies and other special occasions.
It is a source of great pride to her to know that she can contribute to such events. There are not many women brave enough to jump from a height of more than 1,000 metres and as she has already completed this feat more than 1,000 times it has now become an honour for her rather than a fear.
“It’s the sense of adventure and challenge that attracts me to parachuting. When I joined the army, I always saw men jumping but never women. So I decided to make a jump when the helicopter was at an altitude of about 2,000 metres,” she recalls.
It’s not easy to be a good parachutist, she says, but if you are brave and do a lot of training it’s certainly possible. First she studied the theory involved and learnt how to control a parachute during a jump.
She first practised jumping from a height of just two or three metres.
During her 18 years of jumping, she has never had an accident. She says good preparation is very important if you want to touch down safely. It’s also best to avoid jumping in bad weather, such as strong wind or rain.
Souphavanh says the safest altitude range for a jump is 2,500 to 3,000 metres. However, she decided to jump from 1,500 metres at the Elephant Festival because she wanted the spectators to see her and her teammates actually stepping out of the helicopter.
She became the first woman teacher in the sport three years ago after having joined Battalion 703 in Vientiane back in 1999. Every Thursday morning, she takes trainees out on practice jumps to make sure they learn all the right skills. However, they have a long way to go before they can chalk up more than 1,000 jumps like their teacher.