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Sailor shatters board-breaking record during skydiving jump

Jun. 9, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Information Systems Technician 1st Class (EXW) breaks a board in midair over Arizona on May 23 — one of a dozen he split as part of a fundraising effort. Top, Torres, bottom left, jumped alongside 22 other skydivers — 19 with boards, three with cameras.
Information Systems Technician 1st Class (EXW) breaks a board in midair over Arizona on May 23 — one of a dozen he split as part of a fundraising effort. Top, Torres, bottom left, jumped alongside 22 other skydivers — 19 with boards, three with cameras. (Photos courtesy of Ernie Torres)
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World Record! Ernie Torres breaking the most pine boards in free fall to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project. Courtesy photo via Facebook (Photos courtesy of Ernie Torres)

Charity events often include 5-kilometer runs, bake sales or concerts. They do not include jumping out of an airplane at 16,000 feet and setting an unofficial world record by breaking a dozen pine boards with one's fist.

Charity events often include 5-kilometer runs, bake sales or concerts. They do not include jumping out of an airplane at 16,000 feet and setting an unofficial world record by breaking a dozen pine boards with one's fist.

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Charity events often include 5-kilometer runs, bake sales or concerts. They do not include jumping out of an airplane at 16,000 feet and setting an unofficial world record by breaking a dozen pine boards with one’s fist.

At least, they didn’t until last month.

Information Systems Technician 1st Class (EXW) Ernie Torres combined his skills as a skydiving instructor and nearly two decades of martial arts training for an in-flight karate session above southern Arizona on May 23, punching through 12 boards with a steady right hand in free fall after jumping from 16,000 feet.

Torres, 38, is stationed aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln in Norfolk, Va. He made the trip west when Skydive Arizona agreed to provide a plane and able crew members to assist his effort.

“They basically volunteered everything,” Torres said. “All I had to do was show up, jump and break boards.”

Torres said he hopes the event brings awareness to the Wounded Warrior Project. He’s still accepting donations to go along with per-board pledges collected before the jump; as of May 30, his WWP donation page was about 15 percent of the way to its $10,000 goal.

The karate black belt’s effort sounds almost like superhero training, which isn’t far off considering who held the record last — Jason David Frank, best known for portraying the original Green Ranger in the children’s TV series “Power Rangers.”

Frank broke seven boards in January. Torres went up May 23 with 19 boards, making it through a dozen before reaching the 4,500-foot cutoff point.

He credited his wife, Olga — a fellow jumper and a member of the ground crew for the event — along with Bryan Burke, Skydive Arizona’s training adviser, for playing key parts in the fundraising jump.

Twenty-two other skydivers leapt with Torres — 19 with boards and three with cameras, though Torres and others had helmet-mounted cameras as well. Crew members needed to be experienced, said Jocelyn Bernatchez, marketing and event coordinator at Skydive Arizona and one of the board-holders, as they jumped from 3,000 feet higher than a typical dive and had to deal with the air-current shifts caused by holding blocks of wood.

“When he breaks it, you kind of have to be anticipating it,” Bernatchez said. “The air is kind of catching those pieces in different ways. It wants to take your arms zooming into the distance.”

Torres, who serves as an accelerated free-fall instructor at Virginia Skydiving Center in his off hours, said he plans to retire in July 2014.

Guinness has yet to authenticate Torres’ effort; he did not invite officials from the record-keeping group to the event, as Frank did. Confirming a record can take up to six weeks, according to the Guinness website.

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