So here I was, climbing into this tiny little plane, that looked as though it was held together with No 8 fencing wire and a couple of sticks of chewing gum. The instructor had also just informed me that I was wearing the cargo chute.
That was the one with the flare point down around your knees.
This flaring thing is pretty important. It's how you slow down your chute while you're landing. It sort of makes the difference between landing softly like a piece of thistledown and strolling away or coming down with a big thump and breaking half the bones in your body!!
Oh and did I mention that this instructor was about 6' tall and I'm only 5' 1" ? Slight difference in length to knees there....
I climbed into the plane and was directed to sit on the floor by the pilot. The other people that were jumping with me were in the seats behind the pilot. I don't actually remember them, I was back in my dissociated, robot like trance by then.
The above folks, other than being a horrible photo, is what I look like when I'm really, really scared !!
I'm also not reciting the Pledge of Allegiance or trying to stop my heart jumping out of my chest. I'd been told to guard my ripcord handle, just in case someone stumbled over me as they were exiting the plane. Apparently they don't like your chute deploying while you're still in the plane! And yes, according to the instructor, that has been known to happen. So as you can see, I'm really concentrating hard on guarding that sucker. No chute was going to deploy on my watch. No Siree!!!
We got to 3500 ft. I was the last one to go. I have no conscious memory of the others exiting the plane. I also have no conscious memory of leaving the plane myself.
I did leave the plane. The photo above is proof that not only do I have short legs and a wide bum, but I am also capable of insane, 'I've lost my marbles','I don't believe I just did that' and 'What was I thinking' moments.
Yes. that's me. Standing OUTSIDE the plane, at 3500 ft, clutching on to the wing strut with one foot on the plane's wheel and the other leg hanging out there. That strap leading back to the plane, is the static line. The instructor is holding the other end of it. Once I'm away from the plane, he'll pull it and hopefully, my chute will open.
I'm at the point of no return. I can't clamber back into the plane and if I don't jump off the wheel after the instructor has told me twice to 'Go', the pilot will simply drop the wheel and I'll fall off.
The next few seconds are totally blank. I'm told that they did NOT have to drop the wheel as I fell forward into a good arch position. I do not remember that.
I was jerked back into reality, by my chute opening. I looked up and saw that I had a perfect canopy. My lines were slightly twisted, which I'd been told might happen. I kicked out a couple of times, and my lines untwisted, much like a swing's ropes do, when you've twisted them around.
How to find the words to describe how I felt and what I was experiencing ?
I was no longer scared. It was a very peaceful, floating sensation. There was also no noise, which rather surprised me. I was completely alone, with nothing for company but God's beautiful, wide open, blue sky.
Nowadays, when I look up and see a bird, soaring and gliding on the air currents, I understand what it is like to be that bird. To soar, to be free, to be pillowed by the air, to fly. It's a feeling, an experience like no other....
Unfortunately, reality soon intruded and I realised that the earth was considerably closer than it had been a few minutes ago. Time to start flying myself toward the landing zone (LZ).
The LZ was a small field that was bounded on one side by a tall barbed wire fence, on the other by power lines and on the third by everyone's vehicles. The fourth side was open to the desert.
In the center of the field there was a large target. This was what we were supposed to aim for and land on. Beside the target was a big arrow that could be turned to guide us in. At the side of the field was a tall pole. Once we got to the height of this pole, 10 ft IIRC, we were then to flare in preparation for landing gently on our feet.
It quickly became apparent to me, that the guy running the arrow, was not taking into account how slow my chute was to turn. He'd have the arrow pointed in one direction, I'd slowly turn and while that was happening, I'd notice that he'd swung the arrow around in at least two other directions.
At that point, I was really concerned about the possibility of flying into the power lines, fence or vehicles, given how hard my chute was to control. So I decided to take the other option and land out in the desert.
While this eliminated the obstacles, it also left me with no flare point reference. As a result, I flared to high and also did a low level turn. All that pretty much guarantees a hard landing, injury and the possibility of death.
Back at the LZ, a group were already in a truck and on their way out to me, before I'd even landed. They told me later, that it was one of the scariest landing they'd ever witnessed and they were fully expecting to find me injured or worse.
I remember thinking that the earth was getting pretty close, so perhaps it was time to flare. I was a little surprised that I didn't appear to be slowing down as much as they described I would and I remember clearly thinking 'S**t this is going to hurt' and 'Please God, please don't let there be any rattle snakes down there'.
Then I hit the ground, hard and rolled. The fact that I went into a roll as I hit, was probably what saved me from nothing more than a few aches and pains and a couple of rather spectacular bruises.
Would I ever skydive again? You gotta be kidding me !! Absolutely NOT !! You think I have a death wish or something???
Do I regret sky diving? No, I don't. It was an incredible experience and one that I will remember for the rest of my life.
Even if I do get sweaty palms just thinking about it. :-)
3 hours ago