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By David Schwartz
PHOENIX (Reuters) - A team of 222 veteran skydivers from around the world will step off a small squadron of airplanes in the Arizona skies this week and float down in formation to try to shatter a world record, organizers said on Wednesday.
Skydivers must execute two formations before deploying their parachutes to qualify for the largest double-formation record set last year by 110 skydivers in Florida, a spokeswoman said.
"The team is very optimistic that we can do this," said Gulcin Gilbert, a skydiver and spokeswoman for the group, World Team. "Everything seems to be going well so far."
Skydivers representing 28 countries will take part in the event in Eloy, Arizona.
Gilbert said the complex, record-breaking maneuver is most likely to take place on Thursday at SkyDive Arizona, a popular facility in the desert about 65 miles south of Phoenix.
The jump, which has been in the planning stages for about 18 months, is set in motion when the skydivers in multi-colored jumpsuits are taken aloft by 10 aircraft.
Skydivers have 80 seconds from the time they exit the planes to the time the parachutes open to position themselves into one kaleidoscope-like formation and then another at an estimated 19,500 feet above the ground, in an average freefall speed of about 120 miles per hour (190 kmh).
"Our individual flying tasks are not so difficult," said B.J. Worth, the American leading the skydive effort. "But getting 222 skydivers to do their designated task safely and on the same jump is a special challenge."
Skydivers have been practicing since last Friday, first laying out the formations on the ground and then trying to replicate them while in the air, Gilbert said.
Organizers said they have taken every precaution to avoid any mishaps.
"This is an inherently dangerous sport and we don't do things rapidly," said Gilbert. "Everything is staged and safety is foremost in everyone's minds."
During a record jump attempt last December, two skydivers were killed after colliding at a height of 200 to 300 feet and crashing to the ground at the Arizona facility in what authorities ruled was an accident.
Briton Keiron O'Rourke, 40, and Bernd Schmehl, 51, of Germany, were part of a group of 200 skydivers from another organization that was trying to set the same double-formation record.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Gunna Dickson)