In this series, I shall write about the expedition I was a member of, week by week until the 10th anniversary of that landing done on the 21st April 1998 at the North Pole.
It all began in mid-January of 1998; it was during the month of Ramadhan, when Lt (B) A Aziz Ahmad (who was appointed the Jump Team Leader) called me up asking me to report to the Malaysian Ex-Commando Club (Kelab Bekas Komando Malaysia) for a breaking of the fast ceremony. I went, and the usual club committee members were there. That was when Datu Abdul Rahim Dahlan, the Expedition Leader (and then President of the Club) announced to the club members the intention to go to the North Pole, and my appointment as Deputy Jump Team Leader and Expedition Planner. Other members of the Support Team included Kapt (B) Sudirman and Kapt (B) Datuk Azmi Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bidin. By the end of January, just before Aidil Adha, we had sent a letter to the Ministry of Defence, and the Royal Malaysian Police, to select two of their best freefallers each. The rest of the jumpers would include civilians from the Wilayah Sports Parachuting Club, and those selected by the Malaysian Parachuting Federation.
After Aidil Fitri, the team assembled at what was SENTRA Apartments (behind Wisma MCA) for mental training conducted by the Biro Tata Negara, and our first freefall training at Tasik Titiwangsa. The 16-member team comprised of Rahim (ex-GGK), Aziz (ex-PASKAU/HANDAU) and myself (ex-PASKAU/HANDAU) as the key people of the expedition, Nordziah Mohamed Noor, then 39-year old mother of five representing the MPF, 2 members each from the Air Force (PASKAU), Navy (PASKAL), Army (GGK), Police (VAT 69), Wilayah Sports Parachuting Club, and two VIDIOTS (freefall cameramen) – Kapt (B) Noorizan (a.k.a No Reason – ex GGK), and Mejar Kamaruddin (Air Force – PASKAU, now based at TUDM Ipoh).
Our first freefall training was conducted over Tasik Titiwangsa on Sunday, 8th March 1998. Reporter Stephanie Rajendram from the NST filed this report:
Our parachutists to freefall onto North Pole
Monday, March 9, 1998
By Stephanie Rajendram
KUALA LUMPUR, Sun. – Spurred by the successful scaling of Mount Everest in May last year, Malaysia has set her sights on the North Pole.
In what appears to be no easy feat, 15 parachutistswill attempt to freefall onto a drop zone at the Pole, amidst unpredictable weather conditions and harsh terrain on April 18.
Nordziah Mohamad Noor, 39, a mother of five, will be the only woman in the team.
The “North Pole Freefall Expedition Malaysia 1998” is being organised by the Youth and Sports Ministry and the Malaysian Parachuting Federation under the patronage of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Dr Mahathir is scheduled to launch the expedition on March 30 which is being financed by various sponsors.
In a practice jump carried out at Lake Titiwangsa today, expedition leader Abdul Rahim Dahalan said they only had till the end of the month to practise on home ground before leaving for Moscow on April 1 where more gruelling practice sessions await them.
“We will be training at a special landing zone area for free-fallers 80km north-west of Moscow. We will be training for seven days in a row, sometimes performing as many as three jumps a day,” he said.
The reason for picking Moscow, according to Abdul Rahim, was because the Russians were providing the team with logistical support in addition to assisting in rescue and emergency strategies.
“The other reason is the almost similar weather conditions to the Arctic,” he said, adding that their last practice session would be at Kathanga, Siberia, where it is -35 degrees Celsius.
Abdul Rahim said all the parachutists except Nordziah were experienced jumpers from the Armed Forces, police, the Federal Territory Parachute Club and the MPF as well.
Meanwhile, team doctor Dr M. Kamaruddin Isa, said all safety precautions were being taken, from using boots that can withstand up to -73 degrees Celsius and insulated suits to protect against the cold.
“They will be jumping from a height of about 3,500 metres where it is as cold as -70 degrees Celsius,” said Dr Kamaruddin who will be part of the support ground crew.
The jumpers have been advised to jump during “a window period” when the weather is expected to be less hazardous and the recommended dates have been been April 18, 19 and 20.
The freefallers are expected to pull their cord to release “ramair parachutes” (rectangle in shape), at about 750m and land on four-metre thick ice, coating waters as deep as 4,200m.
Besides the danger of them landing in a crevice or ice cold water, winds lashing at 175km per hour could also jeopardise the jumpers.
Spunky Nordziah, an officer with a local training company, who has also hiked up Mount Sibayak (a live volcanic mountain in North Sumatra), said she was excited about taking part in the expedition.