Sergeant First Class JD Berentis, with the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team, free-falls over Lake Michigan and Marquette Park during the team's performance in the Gary South Shore Air Show held at Marquette Beach in Gary, Ind., Sunday, July 8, 2012. Berentis is the leader for the group's Gold Demonstration Team. | Guy Rhodes~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 8, 2012 10:07PM
GARY — Daring aerial manuevers kept all eyes on the clear, blue skies above Miller Beach on Sunday afternoon — the last day of the Gary Air Show.
The action packed day featured the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds flying in formation, pilot Rob Holland executing thrilling barrel rolls and dives in his MX-2, and parachutists from the U.S. Army Golden Knights landing directly on the beach, where thousands were watching the show.
The parachutists jumped out of a plane at around 9,000 feet, with red smoke cannisters billowing in their wake, and it took 10 seconds for them to reach speeds of 120 mph. Once their parachutes were released, the Golden Knights used precise moves to create corkscrew and diamond patterns in the sky. The strong winds on the lake made landing challeging, but they hit their marks every time.
Holland’s manuevers made play-by-play challenging for announcer Herb Hunter because “we don’t understand how he can do the things he does.”
Holland is the world and American champion in unlimited acrobatic flying. Holland flew upside down parallel to the beach and dove straight up into the air before heading straight for the water at a 45-degree angle and pulling out at the last minute.
The loud engines of the Thunderbirds could be heard long before they came into view, leaving many mouths agape.
Many in the audience were thankful that they chose to attend the air show on its final day due to the lower temperatures — in the 80s — after two weeks of temperatures in the 100s and strong breezes off the lake.
Gary residents Tiffany and Cynthia Irions come to the air show every year, and they enjoyed the precision of the Golden Knights’ routine.
“It’s so nice today,” Tiffany Irions said. “I’m glad we came. Our kids make new friends every year.”
The waters of Lake Michigan were too choppy for swimmers, and Hunter told attendees that swimming was not allowed due to the undertow, heavy surf and strong winds.
Mishawaka resident Karen Lawrence and her family have attended other air shows in the past, but it was their first time at the Gary event.
“I enjoyed some of the tricks the planes did,” her son, Jarrett Skwiat, said.
Merrillville resident Chris Hadidian and his friend Mandy Withrow of Valparaiso try to make it to the air show every year.
“I love the Thunderbirds,” Hadidian said. “We really like the military aspect; (Withrow’s) brother is in the Air Force. And the weather is great today; I’m glad we waited to come.”