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Santa gets lifted by a jet pack

Local company's employees, dressed as the holiday icon, will be demonstrating the water-powered device in the Christmas Boat Parade.

December 13, 2011|By Mike Reicher

NEWPORT BEACH — It's an unlikely place to find something out of a science-fiction novel.

Next to the Balboa Boat Yard, where hulky trawlers are hauled out for repairs and rusted containers are stacked high above corrugated metal gates, is a yacht brokerage selling a new product: a water-powered jet pack.

Employees of Jetlev Southwest, the company that sells and rents the packs, will take turns dressed as Santa Claus and fly — sans reindeer — alongside boats at the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade this Wednesday through Sunday.

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The company first moved to Newport this summer. It attracted gawkers each time its pilots took to the water. Videos and photos popped up online.

Since then, Jetlev has been renting the packs for harbor flights and waiting for shipments from the manufacturer so it can sell some of the pricey toys.

Flights cost $199 to $349 per person, depending on the time of week and the size of group. To buy a pack, it is much more — about $100,000.

That's even too much for an orthopedic surgeon like Neil Katz, 56, of Irvine. He was on a friend's boat in Newport on the Fourth of July, saw someone flying and was immediately taken.

"I said, 'I got to get one of those,' but then I saw the price and I said forget it," Katz said.

Instead, he has rented a pack about five times and has brought friends to try it as well.

"It's just that feeling of flying and being able to control it," said Katz.

But not everyone has been as excited. In Newport's conservative boating community, some people have complained about the new device, which can be shocking to see in flight at first.

To smooth tensions in each new body of water, company President Dean O'Malley meets with local authorities. The Coast Guard gave the company an operating permit, and the Orange County Sheriff's Department Harbor Patrol and the city have signed off as well. Even Mayor Mike Henn tested out the jet pack.

"We probably wouldn't be here if we had an accident with the mayor," O'Malley joked.

During the parade, O'Malley and about three other pilots will take turns flying as Santa Claus. They plan to fly toward the front of the boat parade, leading with a small tugboat that will act as an aircraft carrier of sorts — the pilots will land on the open deck, where they'll switch Santas.

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