In the blue summer sky over Hainan province, a helicopter circles, reaching an altitude of 4,000 meters. Onboard is expert parachutist Nam Lee, strapped to a tourist, with whom he will shortly make a thrilling descent.
Originally from the Republic of Korea, 36-year-old Nam is highly experienced, having made 9,000 jumps during his career. He came to the city of Sanya, south China's island province of Hainan, in September 2021, and now works for Skydive Tarhe, a company that provides skydiving services.
The extreme sport of skydiving is new to China, and as its popularity soars, the contribution of people like Nam is greatly appreciated. Not only does he bring enthusiasm, but he has the range of high-level qualifications that empower him to assist with the safe development of the sport in China.
Nam first qualified in the sport as a college student in 2009, obtaining a license issued by the United States Parachute Association. In 2020, after thousands of jumps, he obtained the Master Rigger qualification from the US Federal Aviation Administration. This qualification certifies the holder as capable of designing and creating equipment for use in the skydiving environment, such as sky ties and weight belts.
Nam is now a valued team member at the Hainan skydiving outfit, supporting the other instructors by accompanying tourists on their jumps over Sanya. However, his greatest contribution since arriving has been his intense focus on safety. He insists that the sport is entirely safe, so long as the proper precautions are taken.
Every working day, Nam carefully checks the parachutes in the maintenance room. After checking the canopy bag, he will meticulously mark it in red for other staff to identify.
He also pays close attention to the reserve canopies, which are used in case of emergency, when the main parachute fails to open. Regardless of whether a backup canopy has been used, Nam will re-check and fold it every 180 days. It usually takes about six hours for him to overhaul and fold a backup canopy.
The parachutes used at Nam's skydiving center are routinely subjected to tension tests, designed to ensure that they are still strong enough for the job. The test is applied whenever a parachute has been used a certain number of times or has come into contact with pollutants that may weaken the fabric. If the most vulnerable part of the parachute cannot withstand a pulling force of 14 kg or 18 kg for more than three seconds, the whole parachute will be scrapped immediately.
Zhang Enming, general manager of the skydiving company, said that adding tension tests increases the company's operating costs, but ensures the safety of both tourists and instructors.
One canopy is worth more than 30,000 yuan (about $4,400).
"Nam is the backbone for us," Zhang said. "With his help, I no longer have to worry about problems with parachuting equipment."
The skydiving industry in Hainan has been booming in recent years. Statistics of the Hainan air sports association showed there were 12,000 skydiving jumps in Hainan in 2021.
Xu Liwen, secretary general of the association, said that Nam now serves as one of the foreign experts in the association's skydiving commission. She believes that more talents will be attracted to settle on the island by the good environment of the Hainan Free Trade Port.
Nam has no regrets about his move to China, and is making the most of his time here, learning the language, making friends and exploring the culture. Going forward, he plans to enjoy his time at Sanya and make the most of his high-flying talents.