By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Ocean City Police Chief Jay Prettyman is in the final stages of his training to earn his private pilot’s license.
On Sunday, he was out flying again. Yet this time, he jumped out of the plane – at an altitude of 10,000 feet.
Prettyman joined with the professional skydiving team Fastrax during a sensational opening sequence for the Ocean City Air Show that left thousands of spectators on the beach and Boardwalk awestruck.
“It was great,” Prettyman exclaimed after completing his very first skydiving jump while hitched together with Fastrax team member Matt Harvey.
Other members of the Fastrax team who jumped just ahead of Prettyman and Harvey wowed the crowd with a patriotic-themed display that included floating down to the beach while carrying giant American flags flapping majestically in the wind.
“Jumping here in Ocean City is amazing,” said Larry Compton, who landed on the beach attached to a sprawling, 5,000-square-foot flag. “It’s just the spectacle of it all. You’ve got the ocean, the beach, the Boardwalk and the crowds. There’s nothing else like it.”
As is their tradition with each jump, the Fastrax skydivers honor fallen members of the U.S. military on the anniversary of their death by carrying a picture of them tucked inside their outfits next to their hearts. On Sunday, they paid tribute to Army Sgt. William D. Brown III, of Franklin, N.C., who died on Sept. 19, 2013, while serving in Afghanistan.
The patriotic skydiving display was also highlighted by streams of red, white and blue smoke and pyrotechnics. The skydivers landed with precision on the 11th Street beach amid cheers and applause from spectators.
Prettyman, jumping in tandem with Harvey, was seen spinning around like a top as his billowing parachute descended toward earth.
“He asked me if I wanted to do the spin. I said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ It was crazy,” Prettyman said, laughing, while recalling his conversation with Harvey.
Shortly after he landed, Prettyman was greeted by his wife, Tiffany, who gave him a big hug.
Prettyman said he would be willing to jump in tandem again, but made it clear that he doesn’t plan to take up skydiving on a regular basis.
“I’ve got too many other hobbies going on right now,” he said, noting that he is completing the training for his private pilot’s license.
The professional aerobatic pilots who performed during the two-hour air show treated onlookers to an assortment of death-defying rolls, loops and spins just hundreds of feet above the ocean.
The aerobatics ranged from solo pilots to four-plane formation flying. Two U.S. Coast Guard helicopters simulated a rescue operation. A World War II-era Vampire fighter jet swooped in at high speeds just above the ocean, seemingly skimming the waves at times before soaring back into the sky.
The breathtaking aerial choreography thrilled tens of thousands of spectators who lined the beaches and Boardwalk for the air show, one of Ocean City’s most popular annual events.
The air show was revived this year after being canceled in 2020 while the COVID-19 pandemic raged. It is one of the centerpieces of Ocean City’s lineup of family-friendly fall events to continue attracting tourists to town after the peak summer beach season is over.
“It’s another Ocean City tradition,” Mayor Jay Gillian said of the air show. “It was a great job by all, especially our police chief for jumping.”
Spectacularly blue skies provided perfect flying conditions for the show. While the performers were soaring overhead, the spectators were soaking up the action from viewing spots on the beaches and Boardwalk between Sixth and 14th streets.
“It is beautiful. We love it. I really loved the guys who parachuted down with the flags and colored smoke,” said Vineland resident Kathy Gagliardi, who watched the air show with family members from the 11th Street beach.
During some of the performances, the pilots spoke by radio with air show announcer Howdy McCann, of David Schultz Airshows, the event producer.
“I try to convey what’s going on in the cockpit and explain to people what’s going on with the airplane,” said McCann, who has been announcing air shows for 40 years.
One pilot, Kevin Russo, who was flying a vintage SNJ-6 aircraft, carried on a conversation with McCann from the cockpit that could be heard by spectators over the loudspeakers.
Russo paid tribute to members of the military, police and other first responders during his remarks to McCann.
At one point, Russo told McCann and the spectators that he hoped everyone was enjoying his performance.
“Way to go, Kevin,” McCann said while assuring Russo that the crowd was thrilled.
“It was unbelievable,” Russo responded about being able to perform at the air show.