Tandem master Nick Kush jumps Triple 7 teammate Jim Wigginton in Barcelona, Spain, Jan. 12, 2023. Photo courtesy of Nick Kush.
Keep up with Coffee or Die Magazine’s complete coverage of the Triple 7 Expedition’s world-record attempt to skydive on all seven continents in seven days while raising money for Folds of Honor, a nonprofit organization supporting Gold Star families.
As the nine skydivers of the Triple 7 Expedition jetted to Barcelona, Spain, on Thursday morning, Jan. 12, they faced the tightest turnaround of their trip.
After flying overnight from Miami, Florida, the team of nine military vets had four hours to race to a drop zone 45 miles away for a quick jump, and then return for its flight to Egypt.
Once at Skydive Barcelona, the Triple 7 team had only an hour and a half to brief and complete the jump that would be the European leg of the expedition. Clouds hung low, but with the okay from the DZ operators, the jumpers took off into the overcast skies.
Parachuting through a cloud layer is generally considered to be too risky for all but advanced skydivers. Jumpers can become disoriented in the clouds, drifting far from their landing spot or, worse, colliding with other jumpers in the air. To mitigate those risks, a jump team will often designate a direction for all jumpers to fly should they enter clouds, reducing the likelihood of collision.
Marc Lee with his mother, Debbie Lee. Lee was assigned to Charlie Platoon, SEAL Team 3, when he was killed in action while protecting his teammates on Aug. 2, 2006, in Ramadi, Iraq. Photo courtesy of Debbie Lee.
“We geared up and sent it,” Nick Kush, the team’s tandem master, told Coffee or Die Magazine. “It was great.”
After a mad dash back to the airport in Barcelona, the team moved on to Cairo, Egypt, where it will jump over the pyramids on Friday morning, Jan. 13.
But as the nine vets crisscross the globe chasing a world record, they’re also each skydiving to honor a friend or teammate killed in action.
Kush, a retired Navy explosive ordnance disposal tech, is skydiving in honor of Navy SEAL Marc Lee. Lee was assigned to Charlie Platoon, SEAL Team 3, when he was killed in action while moving into the direct line of fire to protect his teammates on Aug. 2, 2006, in Ramadi, Iraq.
“For me, it was a no-brainer to pick Marc,” Kush said. “He was a friend and teammate. I was standing right next to him when he was shot and killed, so there was a lot of proximity for me.”
The team dedicated its team jump to Lee in Barcelona on Thursday, Jan. 12.
Lee's mother, Debbie, known to her son's teammates as “Mama Lee,” told Coffee or Die that the Triple 7 team members are doing right by the fallen by undertaking the expedition.
“As I say, live your life worthy of their sacrifice,” she said. “And that’s what they’re doing. They’re living their lives. They haven’t given up on life. They’re not sitting back, focusing on all the terrible things that happened, but they’re continuing to move forward to change the world. And in the midst of that, they’re honoring and keeping Marc’s memory alive.”
Triple 7 jumper Jariko Denman exits the aircraft at Skydive Barcelona in Spain, Jan. 12, 2023. Photo courtesy of Jariko Denman.
Even though the Barcelona timeline proved stressful, Kush said the team wanted to use the location to make up time in its quest to finish all seven jumps in under a week.
“We really wanted to keep shaving time off because, right now, I think when we finished Barcelona, we were at 66 hours, or a bit less,” Kush said. “For seven days — that’s 168 hours — and we’ve already done four jumps at 66.”
But Thursday’s time crunch left no time for the pre-jump speech Kush planned to share about Lee. After the skydive in Barcelona, Kush shared with Coffee or Die in a text message what he had planned to say:
Marc Lee in Ramadi, Iraq. Photo courtesy of Debbie Lee.
Since the team’s first jump into Antarctica on Monday, Jan. 9, Kush has jumped with the 73-year-old Jim Wigginton strapped to his chest. The pair are chasing their own world record, one that Wigginton already holds.
A Marine veteran originally from Kentucky, Wigginton secured the fastest time to tandem skydive on all seven continents, completing his first go as a passenger in about six months in 2019.
After Wigginton’s wife, Nancy, died almost a decade ago from thyroid cancer, he set off on a series of record-breaking feats to raise awareness and money for thyroid cancer research, much like the Triple 7 Expedition is attempting to do for Gold Star families.
“At some point, you’re going to wonder what your purpose in life is,” Wigginton told Coffee or Die. After Nancy died in 2013, Wigginton decided that raising money for thyroid cancer research was his.
Far-flung skydiving expeditions have fulfilled a couple of Wigginton’s feats, which he had often pursued with his go-to tandem master and friend, Tom Noonan. He was the tandem master who had skydived with Wigginton on all seven continents in 2019.
Kush said that Noonan was a giant in the skydiving industry, training the people who train other skydivers and helping to pioneer skydiving expeditions in the Himalayas.
Triple 7 tandem master, Nick Kush, lands with team member Jim Wigginton at Union Glacier Camp, Antarctica, January 2023. Photo by ALE (Antarctica Logistics & Expeditions).
“A professional’s professional,” Wigginton said about Noonan. “All these guys, they would go to him for advice.”
So when retired Navy SEAL Mike Sarraille called Kush with the idea for the Triple 7 Expedition more than a year ago, Kush said, “‘Okay, well you called the right guy because I’ll introduce you to the right guy.’” And that guy was Noonan.
“On Oct. 16, 2021, while attempting a 41,000-foot tandem for the world record of the highest tandem with Jim Wigginton, there were some equipment complications that led to hypoxia and, unfortunately, heart failure,” Kush said.
After Noonan’s death, Wigginton chose to continue with the expedition, jumping in honor of his teammate.
“Jim was going to be Tom’s passenger throughout all this,” Kush said. “So, with the passing of Tom, Jim still wanted to go, and he wanted it to be me as the tandem master for him.”
Black Rifle Coffee Company, which owns Coffee or Die Magazine, is a sponsor of the Triple 7 Expedition.
Jenna Biter is a staff writer at Coffee or Die Magazine. She has a master’s degree in national security and is a Russian language student. When she’s not writing, Jenna can be found reading classics, running, or learning new things, like the constellations in the night sky. Her husband is on active duty in the US military. Know a good story about national security or the military? Email Jenna.
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