Riverhead skydiver celebrates 45 years of jumps with leap above Calverton

Skydive Long Island owner Ray Maynard dives with

Skydive Long Island owner Ray Maynard dives with fellow divers as they celebrate Maynard's 45th year of diving above Calverton, July 20, 2014. Photo Credit: Kate Hoffstetter

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The first time Ray Maynard jumped out of a plane was July 20, 1969, the same day Neil Armstrong landed on the moon.

"Before I landed on the ground I knew I would be doing this for the rest of my life," said Maynard of Riverhead.

The owner of a Calverton-based skydiving business since 1989, Maynard, 67, celebrated his 45th year leaping out of airplanes Sunday with yet another of his more than 4,000 jumps.

"Some of the younger guys ask me, 'What are you still diving for, old man?' " Maynard said. "It doesn't bother me."

Maynard did his latest jump accompanied by 10 friends. They jumped from a Cessna Grand Caravan that had taken off from Calverton airport, the headquarters of his skydiving business.

At 13,500 feet, the divers hurled themselves from the 19-passenger plane and grasped hands, with Maynard as the focal point. Within seconds, they dispersed and yanked the strings of their 60-pound canopies, which popped like colorful kernels on the cloudy backdrop.

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The 10 plus Maynard landed safely on a grass field at the airport.

Before the jump, the group organized a "dirt dive" outside the hangar, where they spent five minutes practicing what they would do in a 15-second free fall at more than 120 mph.

"Formations always require planning," Maynard said before the jump, his eyes the same color as the sky.

Maynard's close friend and fellow jumper, Larry Cordeira, joked that "everything he knows he learned from me."

Cordeira, whom Maynard calls "skydiving Santa Claus" because of his white beard, will celebrate his 50th anniversary of diving next year.

"I jump every weekend," he said. "That way I don't get too old."

Cordeira and Maynard discussed Maynard's latest diving injury, a five-inch long scrape on his calf.

Maynard, who broke his back and neck while competing with the United States National Parachute Team in the '90s, said the biggest risk is impact.

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"There's a big misconception about parachutes being the danger of skydiving," said Kurt Cotler, 20, who works for Maynard's company, Skydive Long Island.

"You push yourself because the stakes are higher," he said.

Maynard makes visible a tattoo on his left forearm. It depicts a parachute with five stars underneath -- a symbol of the U.S. Para Ski Team that, with Maynard's help, won the World Cup Championship in 1983.

That competition required divers to parachute from thousands of feet in the air onto a 5-centimeter landing pad, then ski slalom down a mountain, Maynard said.

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