John Hitchen is a new Vice President

Posted on 8 October 2013

John Hitchen is a new Vice President

John Hitchen was welcomed as a new BPA Vice President on his retirement as National Coach & Safety Officer after 31 years of sterling service. Over 130 of his friends and colleagues from the world of skydiving, from the UK and beyond, gathered in Leicester on 7 October for a retirement dinner in his honour, organised by Council Member and STC Vice Chair Geordie Page. Among many tributes and presentations, Riggers' Chair Paul Applegate, on behalf of the riggers, presented Hitch with the splendid timepiece pictured - complete with a chain made out of 31 connector links, one for each of his years on the staff.  


John Hitchen – How did it all begin? 

John was enlisted into the Parachute Regiment in 1956. He did his first jump at Weston and went on to serve in Cyprus and Jordan, but he did his first sport parachute jump 40 years ago.

It was at an ‘Old Comrades’ meeting in 1973 when John first heard about sport parachuting from someone who had jumped at ‘East Midlands Skydiving Centre’ in Ashbourne. So, on 27 April, John went to Ashbourne and met Tom Sawyer.

No doubt all of us can remember our first jump - but probably not so many were quite like John’s. Having downed five pints in the local pub with Tom, followed by 10 minutes ‘training’, John was in the aircraft - apparently he didn’t need any training as a former para! He had to climb over a refusal and after an uneventful descent he managed to break his coccyx on landing, thanks to his rubbish PLF!

On his second jump at Ashbourne, some six weeks later, John’s young son was in the Cessna 182 to watch his Dad - they literally held out of the aircraft door without any safety harness!

After one more jump at Ashbourne, John discovered Grindale in June 1973 and CCI Ronnie O’Brien. His second and third free-fall descents were once again probably more memorable than most, as he landed under his reserve on both of them on the same day. Rather than risk a third malfunction, he accepted Arthur Lowthorpe’s invitation to retire to the pub for the rest of the day!

John’s first log book contains quite a few interesting ‘remarks’ from his instructors at Grindale: Jump 74, first PC jump - “Incompetent Little Toad”.

Jump 86, PC cut-away jump - “Bust leg -well done wa**ker”.

Jump 92, RW base - “Must work on your position - you fall like a pregnant toad”.

John’s most memorable jump, however, must surely have been number 223 at Grindale on 8 August 1975, recorded in his log book as “Nearly Head Office!” For anyone here who doesn’t know what happened on that day, it’s the day his ‘Protector’ reserve blew every panel. It was later discovered the reserve had been refused by the military having failed under test, but was left on the civilian market.

But John couldn’t stay away from skydiving and his mates at Grindale, so most weekends he would be transported to the DZ laid flat on his back on a mattress in the back of an estate car.

John resumed jumping on 11 July 1976 and two jumps later he was on a demo into a Sheffield School.

John started the ‘Sheffield School of Freefall Parachuting’ and spent many years at Wickenby, Elvington and Sturgate before starting his career with the BPA in 1981.

Before taking on the role of NCSO, John had previously been a BPA Council Member for several years, and had also taken a keen interest in the BPA Instructor rating system.

He was also a BPA and FAI judge in Style, Accuracy, Relative Work and Canopy Relative Work (FS and CF as we now know them) and served as Chief Judge at the British Nationals and also internationally at World Cups and a CF WPC.

John also became active at IPC as one of the BPA delegates from the early 80s and recently stood down as Chair of the Style and Accuracy committee, a position he had held for many years. Many of you will have seen John at a variety of World Championships as FAI Controller; a role that he found particularly enjoyable though at times, challenging.

Being active on the international scene has certainly had its perks and John has been fortunate to visit many places while ‘working’ in skydiving - but the single most important benefit has been the opportunity to make so many new friends along the way and now that he has retired, he intends to chill out a little and spend some time travelling and meeting up with them - and I think he’s looking at Larry and Cindi [in the USA] as his first port of call…                        

Annette Hitchen [BPA Member]

Updated 24 October 2013

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