Women skydivers break head-first formation record over Arizona

Sixty-three women from around the world are shown in this handout photo provided by the United States Parachute Association November 30, 2013 as they break the previous vertical formation skydiving record, leaping 18,000 feet from three aircrafts near Eloy, Arizona. REUTERS/Niklas Daniel/United States Parachute Association/Handout via Reuters

PHOENIX (Reuters) - Sixty-three women from around the world linked hands as they plunged head first toward the Arizona desert on Saturday, shattering the female vertical formation skydiving record, the U.S. Parachute Association said.

The skydivers leaped from three aircraft at 18,000 feet near Eloy, about 65 miles southeast of Phoenix, said Nancy Koreen, the association's director of sport promotion.

The women were from countries that included the United States, Canada, Australia, Mexico, France, Norway, Sweden and Germany.

The record came on the 12th attempt. It shattered the all-women head-first record set by 41 women in 2010, Koreen said.

"Everyone has to perform together, which is what makes the record so challenging," Koreen, who took part in the successful attempt, told Reuters.

Judges of the Swiss-based Federation Aeronautique Internationale verified the record attempt at the site, she said.

Vertical skydiving is regarded as more difficult than freefall, belly-to-earth skydiving. Skydivers hurtle toward the earth at higher speeds in a position that makes control more of a challenge.

"When you are on your head, everything happens a lot faster. You have a lot less surface area exposed to the air ... so it's a harder position to fly and control," Koreen said.

(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Eric Walsh)