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24,000 ft. RecordIn 1931, the world was recovering from the Great Depression. Jobs were still scarce; so many people took what was available. The Ford Motor Company had some jobs overseas in Russia. The jobs were to help build a new truck plant in Russia for three years.
Samuel Herman took a position with Ford in Russia. This was a great opportunity to have a consistent income, but it coincided with the purges under Joseph Stalin.
Victor Herman was the 16-year-old son of Samuel. Victor was very athletic and was able to participate in a variety of sports. He participated in boxing, swimming, track and field, riflery, and many more sports. He started flying after he met General Tukachevsky, one of Russia's top aces.
Victor flew all types of French, Russian and German aircraft. These planes were very loud and slow climbers. Victor preferred the smaller aircraft because they were somewhat quieter and faster.
Victor's exposure to aviation led him to parachuting. There was a slight problem. There were no parachutes available. Finally, he found one among some abandoned airplanes in a hanger.
With his parachute, he soon became Russia's top parachutist. There were no other parachutists where Victor jumped. Very few parachutes were available and no one wanted to jump anyway.
Victor's jumps were with the one parachute he had. He jumped without a reserve parachute. One day the Russians asked if Victor could jump with a dog. They provided him with a smaller parachute for this purpose. He kept this parachute and used it for his reserve afterwards.
Victor and his family lead a pleasant life. In 1934, the United States was trying to set the world's highest altitude jump from 16,000 ft.
Victor's aviation and parachuting experience lead him to believe he could jump from 24,000 ft. On Sept. 6, 1934, Victor and the pilot of an ANT-9 were determined to set the highest altitude jump record.
The jump happened at an air show outside of Moscow. Many high ranking Russian military and government officials were there to witness the jump.
The plane had been stripped of all extra equipment so it could reach the lofty altitude of 24,000 ft. Even after this, the pilot said it would not reach 24,000 ft. because it was still too heavy. Incredibly, Victor removed his reserve parachute and threw it to the ground. He climbed onboard to make his 43rd jump.
The plane made it to 24,000 ft. Victor disconnected his oxygen hose and jumped from the plane. He did a freefall delay, in those days it was called a 'dead fall', until 1500 ft. His entire jump lasted 142 seconds.
This record setting event was a big deal for the Russians. The Russians wanted to make sure the entire world knew a Russian did the highest altitude jump in Russia.
That was the catch. Victor spoke perfect Russian, so most people thought he was Russian. When Russian officials discovered he was an American, born in Detroit, MI, they became adamant.
The Russians insisted that Victor sign the World Record documents stating that he was Russian. Victor refused to renounce his American citizenship. The Russians tore up the papers in front of him. He left the room. The Russians were publicly embarrassed that this American kid made them the laughing stock in the world.
In the next few years, Victor did some more jumps. By 1938, he accumulated 72 jumps. He did night and water jumps because they had an extra thrill to them. He acquired the nickname 'Charles Lindbergh of Russia' for his many airborne activities.
Victor's decision to keep his US citizenship brought many years of suffering.
At the time of Victor's world record jump, Stalin was conducting violent purges. Many of the Ford Motor Company's employees were arrested by the secret police and declared a spy. In 1938, Victor was arrested.
Victor was beaten and tortured. After a month of enduring this treatment, he signed a 'confession'. He was sentenced to death. After a month on death row, his sentence was reduced to 10 years in an extermination camp. There was no indictment, no counsel, no trial, no recourse and no parole. A formal sentence was never handed down.
He was exiled to Siberia in 1948 for the rest of his life. Victor married a Russian gymnast. They both lived in exile in a cave chopped out under the ice. Unexpectedly, Russia reversed itself and exonerated Victor in 1956. Victor spent the next 20 years trying to leave Russia and return to the US. He finally made it to the US in 1976.
Victor wrote the book 'Coming Out of the Ice' to describe his ordeal. The book was made into a movie and was also on audio tapes, read by Victor Herman.
Victor Herman died at age 69 in 1985 on US soil.
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