Watch for Skydiving Ace Mary Tortomasi at Palisades Fourth of July

By Laurel Busby
Staff Writer

World-record holder Mary Tortomasi will be flying the Palisades skies on the Fourth of July.

Tortomasi, who has jumped in both the largest formation skydive and the largest all-women formation skydive, will be joining Carey Peck and Rich Piccirilli to officially begin the town’s annual parade.

Tortomasi will be easy to identify as she floats down in her bright pink suit.

“I wear my woman’s world-record, hot-pink jumpsuit on purpose,” Tortomasi said. “It’s representing that amazing event,” which included 181 women from 31 countries flying together in formation. And the outfit is also for “all those little girls who are adventurers.”

World-record jumps are a particularly challenging feat. Peck also participated in the 400-way—400 jumpers who came together with the support of the Thailand military and its aircraft in 2006 to create the world’s largest formation jump. In both events, planes flew in formation and then the skydivers jumped out in a tightly choreographed effort.

Skydiver Mary Tortomasi spoke to Palisades residents after she landed on Sunset Boulevard and Swarthmore at last year’s parade. Photo: Luis Velasquez

Skydiver Mary Tortomasi spoke to Palisades residents after she landed on Sunset Boulevard
and Swarthmore at last year’s parade. Photo: Luis Velasquez

“You fly like you’re a bullet straight down as fast as you can” before slowing to join the base group of jumpers in the formation, 

Tortomasi said. “It feels like a magic carpet ride once everyone gets in their positions. All of a sudden it gets very quiet. It’s this amazing sensation.”

The sensation of flying is something that Tortomasi began dreaming about as a child growing up in Las Vegas. She had “vivid dreams of flying,” and then the first vertical wind tunnel opened in her town in 1982.

“I was a kid, and I heard you could fly,” she said, so off she went to try it out. Tortomasi has been hooked ever since. “Body flight is an incredible sensation. In a sense you are the airplane.”

She became the facility’s first female instructor, and now she works training skydiving instructors in Southern California, where she moved in 2003 to help open Skydive Perris, a business that offers both indoor and outdoor skydiving.

While she also loves jumping from an airplane and has completed more than 3,000 outdoor jumps, Tortomasi finds that indoor skydiving has some specific benefits that can attract a wider variety of participants.

The controlled atmosphere makes skydiving possible for a bigger age range and even people who are scared of heights. She has shepherded people from 18 months old to 87 years old through the activity, while traditional skydiving requires that jumpers be at least 18 years old.

The experience is not the high adrenaline experience that many expect. “It’s never like a roller coaster,” Tortomasi said. “It feels like you’re floating.”

The indoor facilities, which are increasingly springing up in Southern California, are also popular training locations for outdoor skydivers because of the increased flight time. For example, in outdoor skydives, generally people experience about a minute of flight, but indoors, they can fly for as long as they can afford.

In addition, the glass walls allow it to be a spectator sport, and over the last five years, its popularity has expanded dramatically. Universal City Walk has one facility that is smaller and more like a ride, while bigger spaces are available in Ontario, San Diego and soon Oceanside.“It’s worth the drive,” she said.

Tortomasi, who works with both experienced and beginning skydivers through her business (bodyflyers.com), said her students generally float for about 10 minutes, which she said is actually an intense workout.

Guiding first-time skydivers is a particular joy for her.

“There’s nothing more exciting than seeing the light bulb go off, and someone gets it,” Tortomasi said. “They’re flying their body on their own. You only get to do one first. For me to do a first, it’s really rewarding. It honestly never gets old.”

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