Businessman Larry Connor Attempting 35,000-Ft. HALO Charity Jump

Larry Connor, a wealthy 73-year-old businessman adventurer, is planning a 35,000-ft. HALO (high altitude, low opening) formation parachute jump from Roswell, New Mexico, during a 30-day time window which began earlier this week. Fall traditionally is when weather in that part of the southwestern U.S. is most conducive to such an activity.

The jump is a fundraiser for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation (SOWF), with the goal of raising $1 million and awareness for the charity. The long-lived, under-the-radar organization financially helps children in families of deceased special ops personnel, as well as provides children of all awardees of the Congressional Medal Of Honor comprehensive educational support.

Connor insists that all of the money raised goes directly to SOWF, as he personally is funding expenses related to both the training and execution of the event.

The unofficial record for a formation HALO jump is held by some other intrepids – from 33,000 feet nearly a decade ago – so Connor, if all works out, should break it by a few thousand feet. The Guinness Book Of World Records folks are scheduled to be on hand to certify the jump.

In preparation, Connor, who made his money in the real estate business with the Dayton, Ohio-based Connor Group, along with his four cohorts have been training in Roswell, New Mexico, with progressively higher altitude jumps in a specially-built hot air balloon. Before Roswell, they had trained in Melbourne, Florida. In July, I joined the jumpers to participate in one of the prep exercises, and to interview Connor one-on-one (see story below). Following are edited excerpts from a longer conversation.

Jim Clash: Of the hundreds of charities out there, why this particular one?

Larry Connor: The jump is a challenge, for sure, but there’s also a purpose, and that purpose is twofold. One, SOWF has been around for four decades, but it’s not super well known. The work they’ve done is nothing short of incredible in helping families of fallen special operations soldiers. It’s positively affected some 1,600 of these guys’ kids.

Two, I have the good fortune of having four other jumpers with me, all special ops U.S. Air Force para-rescuers, the best of the best. We, as a country, are kept out of harm’s way by the military, whether it’s the Navy, Marines, Army or Air Force. Why not give four of these special people some recognition? And raise needed funds at the same time.

Clash: For the jump itself, why did you pick 35,000 feet?

Connor: We went to Davis, California, last fall. We had pegged 26,500 feet as the height from which we would jump. We planned to hold our formation together long enough for a HALO world record.

Now we did this believing that no formation had jumped from that high. We took our plane up, jumped and all landed safely back on the ground. A day later, we found out that another group had jumped from 33,000 feet! They hadn’t had it certified, and didn’t have any judges present.

It didn’t make any difference. We knew in good conscience that we could not claim a record because another group had done it. We had to do the right thing. So we all agreed to go above 33,000 feet. That’s pretty high. How best could we do it? The idea came about to build a balloon. So our goal became to jump from a few thousand feet higher, and not from a plane but from a balloon.

Clash: Last year, you traveled to orbital space as part of of the Axiom AX-1 private mission. The view must be spectacular. But is it life changing, as some astronauts say? Was there, say, any “overview” effect?

Connor: Understandable question, disappointing answer. No, it was not [laughs]. Was it an extraordinary experience? Yes. Life-changing – no, and I don’t know whether that’s good or bad on my part.

Clash: You say extraordinary. Give us an example of why.

Connor: We were passing over Hawaii, headed east. Suddenly, we were approaching California. When you see the coast from up there, it’s exactly shaped as you would see it on Atlas maps. Oh my God, it’s spectacular!

My crewmate and I got to talking for what seemed like, just a minute. He says, “Larry, look down.” I see this massively big city. He says that it’s New York. We had crossed the entire U.S. in a matter of minutes, with a very short conversation. At almost 18,000 mph, that’s what you get!

Clash: You’ve also been to the bottom of the world, nearly seven miles down, to Challenger Deep in the Pacific’s Mariana Trench. Comment on the highly publicized implosion of OceanGate’s Titan submersible during its adventure tourist dive to visit the wreck of the Titanic.

Connor: It’s a tragedy, first off. But I think it was avoidable. It’s going to hurt ocean exploration, a relatively small industry with a lot of really good people. If you look at the last 50 years, any submersible that’s had DNV [Det Norske Veritas] certification has never had a fatality, and that’s thousands of dives. Unfortunately, OceanGate decided against advice from many experts who said its strategy, approach and vehicle construction were flawed.

Hey, I’m all for being a disruptor. But you can’t do that and risk other people’s lives at the same time. Because of this accident, we’re going to need to reeducate the public about underwater exploration.

MORE FROM FORBESPJ Training With Real Estate Mogul/Adventurer Larry Connor

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