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July 15, 2020

Jumping out of a plane is not easy

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Many years ago, for my 40th birthday, my family gave me a special gift.

The gift was a voucher for a ‘tandem’ jump with out of a plane at an airfield south of Sydney.  The voucher was valid for 12 months.  It took me almost 12 months to get the courage to book the jump.

On arrival, the atmosphere was both serious and positive.  They were an organised mob – got me dressed and scheduled in no time.  An offer to have my jump filmed was accepted (yes, I still have the video).

My instructor was a young man (forget his name), we made our way towards the take-off area after saying goodbyes to my family.

At the take-off area there was a makeshift metal bar that hung high enough over the ground where the instructor ‘attached’ me and I got a bit of an idea of what it would be like to ‘free fall’  and was told what to do when we landed.  Seems simple enough.

During these few minutes, a plane would land (empty of course) and a group of 10-15 or so jumpers would huddle in and in just a few minutes, the plane would then take off.

There were also groups of jumpers huddled together near us and they seem to be practicing some dance steps, or some other sort of choreography.  It then occurs to me that they are practicing their jump moves .

In no time, my instructor tells me – “This is us!  Let’s be the first ones in!”  I’m not sure this is good or bad – but who am I to complain?

The plane fills up – and in no time we are in the air . . . climbing steadily to reach out target height of 14,000 feet (around 4000 metres).

So far, so good. I’ve been in planes before, even small planes.  This one is noisy though, and the atmosphere, well, different.

For starters, we don’t have seatbelts.  There is also no food service.  And the pilots, well, I was sitting behind the one pilot!

Then, there were my fellow jumpers.  I was the only tandem – others were jumping either solo or in groups. There was a strong sense of camaraderie, that we were part of a very exclusive club.  Lots of tension in the air, lots of palm shakes.  Lots of laughter.  Lots of excitement.  Lots of energy.

And then, a light flashes.  My instructor tells me that we are halfway to the jump point.  It has been around 8 minutes of climbing so far.  My camera man has set up his equipment and started filming some bits.

And the fellow jumpers all of a sudden, quieten down.  An air of seriousness takes over, they are now all business.  Check this bit of equipment; check this other bit of equipment.  Ask your neighbour to double and triple check that everything is ok.

Apart from the pilot, I realise that I’m the only person in the plane without a parachute.

And then it hits me.  What am I doing?  Sort of like the fog clears and you sort of figure out that you are somewhere that you shouldn’t be.  Am I in trouble?

The feeling doesn’t leave me.  In fact, the light flashes again, and my instructor tells me: “2 minutes to jump time”.

Jumpers start to move and slowly stand up.  I’m asked to turn around and my instructor ‘attaches’ me to his harness and body.  Do I feel any better?  Not so sure.

Another light flashing.

Jumpers now face the rear of the plane.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, I think – why are the facing the rear?

And a panic sets in.

The back of the plane opens up.  Leaves a big gap, air swirling around.

Somehow, people have started to disappear from the plane!  OMG, they are jumping!  Screaming, laughing, smiling, doing backflips and somersaults out of the back of the plane…

My instructor tells me:  “in a few seconds, start walking towards the exit, and don’t stop!”

What do you mean, don’t stop?  I take a few steps and then my legs won’t move.  My mind says: go on, you’ve been told what to do.  My legs say – don’t be silly, this is wrong!

Have you ever been in this situation?  You are doing something that you are not used to.  A new experience.  But part of you is not sure about it and freezes?

A couple of pushes and I am sort of dragged to the exit.  Very reluctantly.  My cameraman is hanging (yes, literally hanging) out of the back, facing me (camera rolling, of course).  Thumbs up!

And then I am pushed.

We turn a few times, and then we stabilize.  Sort of.  We are free falling.  My goggles, barely doing their job.  10 seconds go by.  So far, so good.  20 seconds go by. 30 seconds.

Hang on.  Something is wrong.  I’m not sure what, but deep down I know.  And then, I figure it out.  I had forgotten to breathe!  No problem, I can do that …  (so I think).


I open my mouth, and try to breathe . . . but my lungs won’t respond.  The air is coming up to my face, my mouth, my nose, so fast, that my body doesn’t know how to react, and the lungs aren’t doing their thing.

This was my second very scary moment.  The last thing on my mind was thinking that I would not be able to breathe.

After a while (maybe another 20 seconds or so), I figured that if I opened my mouth just a little tiny bit, that I could get some air in and close my month and then swallow.  With a super effort, I take in small amounts, and then a bit more, and it feels good.

By now, we have been falling for around 50 seconds.  The camera man starts to drift away.  I sense that something is about to change.  My instructor says – get ready, I’m about to pull the chute!  And BAM!  I feel like I was yanked up with and incredible force, with very little warning!

The experience, for the next minute or so, was surreal.  It felt like we were not moving.  Sure, we had wind in our faces, and our direction changed getting us closer to our landing spot.  Sure, the small objects down there on the ground were getting slightly bigger. But it still felt like we had been put on pause.  Sort of like the feeling you get when you know you’re in the shit but put your head in the sand and ignore your problems for a while.  The problem was not going away.

And soon enough, it felt like the ground was rushing towards us.

My third really scary moment!  My instructor tells me – “When we get close to the ground, start moving your legs like you are running and keep on going when we hit the ground.” Easier said than done.  I had not used my feet much in the last 15 minutes, and even then, up in the plane, they refused to obey my commands.  My commands!   Don’t I own my own legs?

We get closer, closer.  The instructor says: “Run, Run!”

My legs must have made some woeful attempt, like, putting in 10% of effort instead of 110% of effort expected in training.  My instructor resigned to this fact and changes strategy.

Our landing is successful, but not pretty.  You see, the alternative to landing whilst running and then staying on your feet (show offs!) is to land on your bottoms!  Not a pretty site!

High fives all around.  Camera man comes over and congratulates me.  Adrenalin still in the body.  Wow, did I just do what I just did?












The moral(s) of the story:

1)      In life, you sometimes have to do things that you have not done before.  This is good.  This is expanding your knowledge, your strength, your experiences.  But it can also be difficult.  Scary.  It can be something that part of you rebels against.  Learn how to deal with this.

2)      Sometimes, to do something really difficult, the way to go about it is to get a partner, an advisor or a mentor and to trust them.  Trust that their advice is good.  Trust that you will be ok.

3)      Sometimes, pushing yourself against your known limits has some very positive and rewarding benefits.  This is what makes life interesting!


Do you have any similar experiences you’d like to share ?



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