This past week, our Events Coordinator, Shelly, came in to meet with a bride for an upcoming wedding here at the inn. She looked a bit pale and unsteady on her feet, so I asked her if she was okay. She said she was fine, but that she had not fully recovered from jumping out of an airplane that morning!
What! If I jump out of an airplane, it will be because it is on fire and headed toward a mountain. And even then, it will be at the very last minute.
She wrote about her experience and I asked her if I could share it here with you. I've got to admit, after reading it, I'm thinking of jumping out of a totally functional airplane! (NOT!)
I finally did the tandem dive I first thought about doing when I was in my mid-thirties. However, back then I had three small children who depended on me and I saw skydiving as a risk I could not afford to take.
The idea of a tandem jump was something I put away for years. One night my boyfriend and I were chatting and for some reason I mentioned doing a tandem jump. I thought nothing of the conversation. However, Steve, being the good listener and sweet man that he is, bought me a tandem jump for Christmas!
On a very early bright, clear and slightly cool June morning Steve and I head out to the airfield for my scheduled 8:00 jump. I was a bit apprehensive, I suppose. There are a few butterflies in my stomach that had actually been there for a couple of days. Having a bit of nervous excitement is expected, especially for the death defying act I was about to participate in.
Maybe not death defying, but certainly exciting. According to the massive amount of research I conducted the week before my jump, sky diving is actually very safe. In fact, according to the National Safety Council,” a person is much more likely to be killed getting struck by lightning or stung by a bee.”
I had never been stuck by lightning but I have encountered plenty of bees, so I figured I was safe.
Upon arrival I was required to watch a video narrated by Bill Booth, the man responsible for tandem diving. (Bill looks like he could be a member of the band ZZ Top.) Bill tells me I could die or be seriously injured so I had better understand the risks involved. I was also warned that in order to put the harness on, that would attach me to my instructor, I might be touched in places some would consider inappropriate.
After viewing that uplifting video I had to sign four pages of documentation saying that neither I, nor my heirs, would sue anyone remotely connected with the jump should I die or be injured. Not the owners, not the business, not the manufacturer of the plane or the parachute, not the farmer next door should I land in his field…nobody! I also had to indicate any impairments I may have such as high blood pressure.
Of course I sign. It is safer than running through a clover field full of bees!
I was then introduced to my instructor Justice. He was a nice young man who had some big muscles, so that was reassuring, and 13 years of jumping experience. We went over how the parachutes were packed, the reserve chute and how that would deploy if needed.
There was a “practice session” where I was taken to the plane and briefed on the actual logistics of the jump. The plane was a very small Cessna that would carry me, the pilot, our photographer and of course, Justice.
We went through who would sit where, what I would need to do to get hooked to Justice. When we were close to 10,000 feet and I was all hooked up, the photographer will yell, “door” and then open the door. Justice would put his right foot out on the ledge over the wheel of the plane and I would place my right foot next to his. At that point I would be dangling over the earth and then we would jump. Actually Justice would jump, I would be shoved!
Time to suit up. You can wear street clothes and I had the option of a jump suit but I chose not to wear one. My harness was put on and man is it ever tight. “Don’t want you going anywhere” proclaims Justice.
While I was suiting up the photographer was videoing the event. “Are you nervous?”
I replied, “Just a little.”
Time for the real deal. The four of us load up in the plane and we begin our loud, rattling takeoff. I would describe the plane as a tin can on wheels. To make the whole event more surreal we are rolling down a grass runway. Still I am not one bit nervous. I am super excited however! The photographer is making cracks about hoping the parachute opens this time and Justice is yawning and telling me he wishes he had gotten more sleep the night before.
I just grin at them and say, “You can’t scare me.” They laugh.
As we approach 10,000 feet Justice gives me my goggles, which are so tight. I mean squeeze the head tight. I sit in front of him, we get strapped up and the door opens.
WOW! Talk about noise and wind. But what a rush as well. We inch our way in front of the door and Justice puts his right foot out on the ledge over the wheel of the airplane. He indicates for me to do the same and for a moment I am dangling high above the earth, one foot out and one foot in. I am hanging on to the door opening with one hand and my other hand has nothing but air. Funny thing…I don’t feel the least bit nervous or scared. Instead I am feeling very Zen like, as I tell myself, “You are about to jump out of a perfectly good plane!”
Justice gives me the signal to grab my straps and put my head back. And just like that we are off. Sixty seconds of falling without a parachute - here I come.
There is nothing in the world that can prepare you for the amount of wind or noise in a free fall. From what I have read you are cruising along between 120 and 125 miles an hour. It is not actually a free fall, because at some point your body hits the speed at which it will fall and stays there. Still, we are moving and moving rapidly. I struggle to breath and I gasp for air. The photographer is in front of us so I give him the thumbs up and smile. I can’t close my mouth after because of the force of the wind.
I look down and I see the earth below and I am still not worried. My mind is just trying to take in everything that is happening at the moment. I am not sure if it has dawned on me yet that I am falling to earth at a rapid speed.
Then Justice deploys the canopy. I scream a few expletives and then start giggling – hysterically. We slow down very quickly which actually felt like we were pulled straight up in the air as if a hand had reached down and jerked us backward. It appeared even more so because the photographer was still falling. Justice does something to the hooks at my hip and loosens the strap across my chest, so I can be more comfortable.
I give it a pull to the left and we go left. I give it a pull to the right and we go right. Then my stomach starts to roll, and I remember I have vertigo. Now vertigo is not like being dizzy, it is more like things around you slanting. And with no solid object to focus on my vertigo was out of control.
I told Justice I was sick to my stomach and he took the toggles back. I tried to concentrate on what was going on, but I was also afraid I was going to be sick. Justice tells me if I am going to be sick, throw up to the side. If I throw up to the front it will just come back on us.
Looking down I could see for miles. It was so quiet and peaceful floating above the earth. The blue sky around us and the green earth below was jaw-dropping beautiful. It was as quiet as free fall had been loud. I pointed out the red plane on the ground. We saw the photographer with his purple canopy moving very quickly to his landing.
“What do you think?” Justice asks.
“I have no words to describe it.”
This all happens so quickly. I am not sure how long we have been up there. Three, four minutes but it felt like ten seconds.
Then I feel my legs falling asleep. You know that tingling feeling you get when you sit funny and your leg falls asleep. All of a sudden I feel very light headed and I tell Justice I feel like I am going to pass out.
He tells me we only have thirty seconds until we land.
And then I faint.
Only I didn’t know I had fainted until I wake up, on the ground with Bryan, the owner, kneeling in front of me saying, “Shelly, are you alright?”
“Oh no, did I pass out?”
“You just took a little nap.” Bryan jokingly says.
I was horribly disappointed that I had not been awake for the landing. So disappointed I am going to do it again, so I can experience a landing and get it on tape!
I was told that sometimes the harness is tight and cuts off the circulation at the pelvic area. Justice told me he has had people faint before. Maybe it was my mind telling me I should be a little more afraid than I was?
After doing some research the factors that contribute to people passing out during a tandem jump could include:
1. The harness cutting off the circulation, as it is strapped around the major arteries in your leg.
2. A decreased amount of oxygen you experience during free-fall
3. The amount of adrenalin running rampant in your body.
I now know how difficult, although not impossible, it is to breathe before the canopy opens. Instead of having my mouth open gulping for air I will breathe through my nose. I also know that when I dive again, if my legs start to fall asleep I will bring them up to the sitting position to relieve the pressure of the harness.
Still I felt really silly. I shouldn’t have though. I just jumped out of a perfectly good airplane at 10,000 feet. I was up above the world coming down at 125 miles an hour with a fantastic, breathtaking view underneath me.
I had done all the reading about the rush of wind and the speed and the noise. Justice told me it might be difficult to breathe before the canopy is deployed. I had read tons of blogs and watched videos of people jumping. However, nothing would prepare me for the memorable, exhilarating and breathtaking experience I was about to have. Words and pictures cannot do it justice.
I can totally see myself solo diving. And you can bet I will be back out there for another tandem jump. This chick is hooked!
Amazing story Shelly!
Next time you are at the Inn, ask Shelly if she has taken that second jump!
Gary at Walnut Street Inn
900 E Walnut Street Springfield, MO 65806