Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 23, 2012

Hundreds of eyes stared skyward, searching for a sight of Santa Claus and his reindeer driven sleigh. Some of the spectators thought they saw it, but everyone on hand quickly realized that the jolly and round man, at least this time, was jumping from a plane.
His red and white suit was apparent to everyone as he fell, and then quickly the parachute opened. Santa had first appeared in the western sky, against a bright background of a blue.
He floated to earth slowly, pushed slightly by a northwestern wind toward the airport’s tarmac. Santa made a quick and practiced landing, delighting all the kids on hand.
Santa continues to develop his little known skill of skydiving. Claus said, “For many years I have wondered how I would keep up as the reindeer and I cover the world bringing toys and gifts to all the good little boys and girls. Imagine what it would be like if I had to stop for all the naughty ones. Ho! Ho! Ho!”
Airport Director Thad Howell was contacted about two weeks ago by Claus’ advance promotion team. With the lead reindeer team needing a final rest before Christmas Eve, Howell agreed to open the airport for children in the area to get one last chance to talk with him.
While Santa had other obligations in the area, Howell reached an agreement that Santa wouldn’t leave before noon and arranged the plane to give him one last practice skydive.
Howell said, “I have two small children and we look for opportunities to have them visit with Santa. When Santa’s advance team approached us about being in the area, we had staff discussions about the best way to let the children speak with him and promote the aviation theme of the event. Since we were offering free admission, my wife Chrissy suggested accepting food donation for the local food bank. We hoped for a good turnout, not only for the children, but also for our friends and neighbors who depend on Rowan Helping Ministries.”
Howell added that the airport is now 82 years old, and this is one of the busiest weekends ever.
Santa’s visit was promoted by the Rowan County Schools. Amy Stokes, a teacher at Granite Quarry Elementary, and her daughter Grace were excited about the event.
Amy Stokes said, “This is absolutely the best way to get the holiday season really going, made even better because it was done in a non-traditional way. At school, we teach the kids about transportation and how important it is. On this one day, we see Santa jump out of plane and later the Memphis Belle is taking off. This is so great for families, and we are so excited.”
Most of the kids didn’t know that Santa was a regular skydiver. Grayson Trexler, age 9, saw the announcement online and made sure he got the family up on Saturday morning to go the airport.
Grayson brought his mother Jan and cousin Joshua Hastings and said, “I know now that Santa skydives. I saw him falling from the sky, and it was cold. When I got to talk to Santa, I told him that I wanted books for Christmas and to learn how to skydive.”
Helping Santa with his high flying entrance to the airport were Kelvin Wilkerson, Jr. and Chris Davis. Davis filmed the event from a helmet cam.
Davis said, “Santa definitely knows what he is doing. He is a very accomplished skydiver.”
Both Wilkerson and Davis work for Piedmont Skydiving which is located at the airport. Howell expressed thanks to Jim Laningham, owner of Piedmont Skydiving, for coordinating the jump with Santa. Davis and Wilkerson said that Santa jumped from 4,000 feet and stayed aloft for about 5 minutes.
Joe and Yusi Bello brought children Anthony, Jonathan, and Hailey, along with friend Sammy Rosenquic from Mocksville.
Joe said, “We read about it in the paper, thought it might be too cold, but we are so glad we decided to come. We will probably go get some lunch and then come back and watch the Memphis Belle fly out this afternoon.”
With a jolly ‘Merry Christmas’, Santa left the airport about noon. He was seen conferring with Airport Director Howell, and said, “Yes, I think we have started a tradition here. I will drop in again next year! Ho! Ho! Ho!”