Free Fall Photographer
By Ron Simmons
I think that it was about 1961 when I first met Bob Buquor. I had been jumping in the Army at Ft. Bragg North Carolina, both as a paratrooper and in one of the base free fall clubs. I had moved back to Los Angeles after being discharged and started skydiving at Elsinore. Bob had dropped by the Paraventures loft in Hollywood to talk with Bob Sinclair about free fall photography. Sinclair was the free fall cameraman for the Ripcord TV series at that time. He and the Paraventures crew were operating out of the Elsinore drop zone. Bob Buquor had teamed up with Doyle Fields, with Bob shooting 35 mm stills and Doyle shooting 16 mm motion pictures. They were jumping mostly at Taft and Piru.
By 1962, I was working as a firefighter and had started publishing Parachute magazine. In early 1963, I invited the Bell helmet company management to Piru for an equipment test. Bell Toptex had developed radio helmets for the Indianapolis 500 and we thought they could be utilized for student jumping. Doyle Fields and I each put on a Bell radio helmet, Bob Buquor put on his 35mm camera helmet, and we jumped the radio helmets. Bob photographed the event and the radios worked very well! We had some static line students jump with the radio helmets, and were able to tell the students when and whereto steer their canopies for close in and safe landings. Leigh Hunt was also at Piru that day, and showed a lot of interest in what we were doing.
Bob Buquor had a passion for skydiving. He would take your picture in free fall if you paid for his jump and film expenses. Bob was getting the best free fall pictures available, and I started featuring many of them in Parachute magazine.
Leigh Hunt and Lyle Cameron managed to obtain the new contract for the Ripcord TV show. Bob was jumping in the TV series. Leigh and I shared an interest in equipment development. We had Bell helmets build a helmet with a built - in case for a 16 mm motion picture camera as well as a helmet with a flat front and a small shelf for attaching a 35 mm still camera. Now the free fall camera jumpers could take pictures and maneuver at the same time. The problem had been that with hand held cameras, when the skydiver brought his hands and arms forward to photograph the subject, his body attitude caused him to back slide. The person being photographed had to chase the photographer. An extra benefit was that by mounting the cameras on the front or the side of the helmet, we lowered the center of gravity for the jumper. I want to mention that we did not originate the concept of camera helmets. Bob Sinclair had already been jumping with a motion picture camera mounted on top of his football hlmet. We only refined the concept. Bob Buquor might have been the first jumper to use a 35 mm helmet mounted camera in free fall. We featured a lot of equipment in the magazine in those days. We tested a bubble shield. It kept your face from distorting, but dulled the feeling of falling. Ken Sisler did an article on the KAP-3 automatic opener. We jumped the new Pioneer Para Commander; a product that hastened the end of modified surplus modified military parachutes.
On week-ends, Bob Buquor was working on three, four, etc. man star jumps with the "fun jumpers" over Taft, Lancaster, and Arvin. Bob also went to Fresno with us to cover the U.S. team training. We did a couple of commercials. And we were able to send Bob to Germany to cover the world parachuting championships for ABC Wide World of Sports.
Leigh Hunt secured a contract to do the skydiving stunt work and filming over Malibu beach for the MGM feature film, "Don't Make Waves" in July 1966. The script called for a jumper doubling as Tony Curtis (Leigh Hunt) and a jumper doubling as Sharon Tate (Ron Simmons for the first 5 jumps and Jim Dann for the second 5 jumps) to do an incredible stunt in ten sequences that were to be edited together. Leigh was to land in the ocean and I was to land on the beach. Bob filmed our exits from an AT-6 chase plane, spiraling down for further footage. The problem on our fist jump was that the wind came in from low over the ocean, hit the nearby mountains, curled over, and blew back out to sea at about the 1,000 to 2,000 foot altitude. We had one safety boat for two jumpers. With Leigh making intentional water landings, the boat picked Leigh up first.
I spent some anxious time in the water before the boat reached me and the guys pulled me on board. We corrected for the wind problem, and I was able to land on the beach during the second and third days of filming. With my part over, I was back on duty at the fire station on the day that Bob was killed. Bob, Jim, and Leigh all jumped on the fatal day. All three jumpers landed in the ocean. It appears that a wind situation similar to the one that we encountered the first day caught Bob unprepared. He entered the water much closer to the beach than I did. Perhaps Bob thought that he would make it to shore. We will never know. Bob had taken off his camera helmet and put it in a plastic bag, holding it in his hands. It was a tragic accident. The studio retrieved the camera and was able to process the film and use it the movie. Sharon Tate was murdered not long after that and Tony Curtis was at a point where his career was winding down. Jumping was no longer fun for me, and I took up skiing and flying. I retired as Fire Chief of Hermosa Beach, and am currently selling real estate in the Kansas City area.