Norman Hoffman, a champion skydiver, died on Sept. 22 from stomach cancer. He was 79.
Born in Dublin, Hoffman grew up with a keen interest in athletics. By the time he was 20, he had already competed in more than 400 Greco-Roman wrestling matches.
In 1948, Hoffman moved to Britain and joined The Royal Air Force. The RAF taught him how to skydive and he immediately began competing against other skydiving teams. In 1959, he perfected a freefalling method and became a British champion.
Hoffman set a number of altitude records (his highest drop was from 35,000 ft.), and developed a mechanism to help paratroopers grab their weapons before hitting the ground. The system is still used by RAF paratroopers today. In 1965, he set up a parachute school for the Kenyan Army. During an air display, his parachute failed to open and he fell 5,000 ft. to the ground. Although he fractured his spine in three places and broke his sternum, Hoffman returned to skydiving five months later.
He spent the early 1970s working as a flight sergeant and instructor in England and testing parachuting equipment for the Joint Air Transport Establishment. For training skydivers in the armed forces, Hoffman received a British Empire Medal. His son, Paul, has also written a book and a screenplay based on his life.
I was fortuate to meet Norman. First at a Drill Instructors Course and then at R.A.F. Cosford. He was without doubt fearless. We both had an interest in weight training and put in many hours in the gymn in our own time. He wanted me to go with him to the Parachute Training School but I was keen to return to civillian life. For a while we wrote to each other but then lost touch. Some time ago I sailed from Inverkip to Howth and tried to make contact again. I remember he said his Father had been Stationmaster at Howth. But Norman was away on holiday. I was very sad to read of your fathers death. A modest and remakable man. I have a photo of Norman taken at Hereford. If you would care for a copy I could send it to you.
In the mantime all my best regards.
I am Norman’s nephew. It is lovely to read your memories of him. I would be very interested in seeing the photograph you refer to (as would my father who was also a parachutist in the army). My address is:
43 Strand Road