Exhilaration at 3,500 feet

Ed Maxwell

Jumping from a plane may not be the most preferred way to spend free time, but a few Lawrentians chose to spend part of their reading period doing exactly that. Cameron Erickson, Andy Hackbarth, and I traveled to Sky Dive Adventure just outside of Oshkosh early Saturday morning for training. The first section of training was not comforting—we spent most of the time studying what our instructor euphemistically referred to as “malfunctions.” He drilled us thoroughly however on how to deal with the various “malfunctions” of our parachutes, and he concluded the section by noting that they averaged about one malfunction per 15,000 jumps, which seemed like great odds to me. Another comfort was that no one has ever died at this school, which has been operating for almost forty years.

The training continued that afternoon in the hangar. There we practiced exiting the plane and assuming the proper posture for our short free fall. We reviewed how to correct malfunctions while in harnesses. Our instructor gave us a few more disaster scenarios, this time dealing with problems with the plane or with landing. (He mentioned that if something goes drastically wrong with the plane, the pilot may opt to dive out of the plane, in which case we should not hesitate to follow him. Some members of the class laughed at this, but no one laughed when he discussed how to handle drifting into power lines or trees.)

Nevertheless, all of us were eager to dive that day. Unfortunately, the winds were too strong for beginners to dive, so we had to wait until Sunday. The morning was ideal for diving—minimal winds, clear skies, and warm weather. Andy and Cameron went up first and came down without trouble. Both of them had enormous smiles as they walked back to the hangar.

My jumpmaster reviewed the basics before we climbed into the plane. He tried to reassure me by saying, “You’re about to throw yourself out of a plane. Relax.” Once we were at the proper altitude, the jumpmaster moved me next to the door. It swung open unexpectedly, sending me into a panic. I clutched the pilot’s seat, which was immediately to my right, and didn’t let go until the door was secured. The jumpmaster calmed me down a little, gave me a few final instructions, and asked me whether I was ready. After receiving my affirmative response, he opened the door.

Swinging my feet into the wind and stepping onto the tiny platform that jutted from the plane were the most difficult steps of the jump. After I took those actions, I stepped into the air while hanging onto the wing. I let go and plummeted down for two seconds.

I can’t recall anything that happened during those two seconds—my mind froze up until I felt a tug on my shoulders, which indicated that the static line attached to my pack from the plane had ripped my parachute out of the pack. A tremendous sense of relief overwhelmed me as my parachute deployed. Awe quickly replaced relief as I gazed down at the land. The parachute’s toggles enabled me to steer the parachute easily, so I positioned myself over the landing zone. The jumpmaster on the ground guided my landing via radio, and I landed softly.

In the hangar, I was shaking so badly that I had trouble getting out of my jumpsuit. When an instructor asked me whether I had enjoyed the dive, I held up my shaking hands and smiled. He smiled in return—he knew the exhilaration I felt.