I took the plunge, quite literally! Yesterday, ie Saturday the 16th of February 2008, I jumped out of a plane at 13,000 feet, was in free fall for 60 seconds and floated down to earth slowed down by a parachute!
More pictures are at my web gallery.
I have often wondered how the world looks like to birds, I have often craned my neck to get a brief glimpse of the earth from the window seat of a plane, but this time I flew! I flew like a bird!!
How did it all begin you are probably wondering… Well, a couple of my friends at work are leaving for home (Germany) soon and they wanted some adventure before they left. So, they looked up the sky diving club and asked me if I wanted to go. This is something that I have always wanted to do, so I said yes and off we went early on a Saturday morning. It was expected to be a beautiful day and it was! The sun was shining and the temperature was 70F. Perfect!
The first thing you do when you get to the skydiving club is sign away your life, yes, literally sign away your life. I signed a legal agreement absolving the sky diving company of any liability in case I were to be hurt in any way from the dive! That in itself was scary. Next step, suiting up. I got into a red overall and a harness. My instructor, David, inspected the harness and ensured everything was in its place. All this while the tension was building. It is the kind of feeling that I used to get before taking important exams! The butterflies in the stomach, cold hands, brain freeze, the works!
The two Germans went up first so I had to wait my turn. I saw them jump out of the plane directly overhead. Two tiny dots fell through the sky and then a beautiful red parachute opened up and slowed them down for their descent to the ground. I was next! As I got into the tiny plane that I was supposed to jump out of, David went over the rules one more time: Do NOT touch his hands, stay out of his way and most importantly when he says jump, jump!
As the plane climbed in altitude, David showed me the geography of the surrounding region of Sonoma valley. Sonoma and Napa valleys are the famous wine growing regions of Northern California. Rolling green hills, fog rolling in from the coastline in the distance, a river meandering its way through the land, and the sun shining bright above – the perfect ambience for my first jump! In the meanwhile, the plane climbed to 11,000 feet. It was almost time and the tension was mounting. I told myself to relax and to enjoy the ride, only then would the experience be worthwhile. There is no point jumping out with your eyes shut!
David clipped in to the harness, he and I were now attached to each other. I didn’t want to think of the immense faith that I had in the manufacturing process of the harness company! Imagine, if some worker somewhere had been lax for the 5 minutes in which this harness was made, I might just fall straight to the ground! Thankfully these thoughts didn’t enter my head at that time!
Finally, 13,000 feet and the two people scheduled to jump ahead of us opened the door – a makeshift canvas door – of the aircraft. One of them was a student learning to jump alone and the other was his teacher. The kid who was learning had packed his own chute, quite a risk considering if it doesn’t open right you are pretty much doomed! He jumped out first followed by his teacher – a ruddy old man with a jolly smile (looked a little like Michael Caine!). They fell downward so fast that they were out of sight in less than a second – scary, very scary! I was up next. Since I was practically sitting in David’s lap at the time I had no control! He swung my legs out the aircraft. I ducked underneath the door and I was ready to jump. Nothing but air beneath my feet. This was the moment! David nudged me a little and we were out! I was supposed to bend backward but out of instinct I went into the fetal position… That didn’t matter much. I was upside down, the world was downside up, everything was a blur and a rush of wind for a while until finally we straightened out and I was looking down.
In a few seconds we had achieved terminal velocity. The body relaxes when there is no acceleration, so from here on in it was just a joyride. The earth rushing up, the wind through my hair at 120 mph, it was an amazing feeling! Claire, the videographer caught up with us and I smiled for the camera 🙂 Had to make good pictures for posterity’s sake!!
We continued to fall for about 40 seconds. Then it was time to deploy the parachute. Altitude – 5000 feet. David pulled the cord and with a huge swooooosh the huge umbrella opened above us. Suddenly there was absolute silence. Absolute silence. I was floating above the earth and it was as if time had stood still. I was flying! I wanted to pinch myself to convince me that it was true! David and I talked about what we saw, petty details for him (I was passenger # 10331!), awe and amazement for me!
4000,3000,2000,1000, I didn’t realize how time went by and it was time to land. Since I was taller than David it was essential for me to raise my legs and land on my butt, else my ankles would bear the brunt of our combined weight which must have been ~400 lbs! We approached the gravel pit where we were supposed to land and I managed to do enough to land on my butt! We came to a stop. It was over! I had taken the plunge and reached earth safely! I took a moment to let it sink in. I was amazed at how relaxed I was! I am not a roller-coaster lover, but this I had thoroughly enjoyed…
Flo said “You are a man now!” and I laughed!
Later the three of us went to a winery owned by Francis Ford Coppola, sipped some wine, ate great food, enjoyed the sunshine and conversed about life. At around 3:30, we headed home, the end of a beautiful half-day, almost perfect!