The parachute opened and the deafening gush of wind stopped. It was all so peaceful. The skin of my face was unruffled once more, no longer flapping like unsupported breasts on a bouncy castle. That’s when I appreciated the sun setting on the horizon.
We were going from Franz Josef to Wanaka. On the bus in New Zealand, activity sheets would get passed around for wherever we were going. For caving, cultural evenings, bungee jumping, skydiving. Jeff and Boxhead had done a skydive in Taupo and I had put my name down to do one in Nelson Xmas Eve that was 16,000ft, 1000ft better, but it had been cancelled. On the activity sheet for Wanaka was skydiving.
I sat there watching stuff go past behind glass, thinking.
BUT WHY ARE YOU EVEN THINKING ABOUT IT! You know how worked up you’ll get! You can’t stand near the second floor railing of a shopping centre pal, what do you want to do this for? WHY PUT YOURSELF THROUGH IT!! Plus it’s expensive…
I thought about it.
And I put my name down.
I waited until we stopped for a break and everybody got off the bus before talking to Bex. I figured that way nobody would know I was doing it and therefore wouldn’t be any the wiser if I shit out. But soon as I stepped onto the sidewalk they knew.
We got to Wanaka and the next two hours were me frightened and panicked in a toilet stall. Then it was time to go. I met the others in reception only to be told by the girl behind the desk that we were delayed an hour because of the weather. We took a table in the bar and waited. We went back. Delayed again!
She said we could jump in the morning if we wanted, but I’d gone through the wringer and I’d reached a calm free state and I wasn’t going to go through it again, and I wanted to be able to sleep, and I was going NOW.
We left for the skydive centre about an hour later. Once we got there, we had a briefing and were given liability forms to sign, agreeing that if our parachutes didn’t work our families wouldn’t sue. The people there fitted our harnesses for us.
“Are you sure that’s tight enough? It feels a bit loose. OH MY GOD. Are you SURE!?”
Then my cameraman introduced himself to me. He was a huge bloke named Mac. He sounded like Arnie. “GET TO THE CHOPPER!” …or rather, the plane. Anyhow, his voice couldn’t have sounded any more different to mine which had shot up to a high falsetto by this point.
I watched another group float to the ground
“Say… they’re actually pretty high up there…”
Just before we boarded the paper aircraft, I met my divemaster, Ingemar, who looked like a ‘tally ho!’ Spitfire pilot, if you know what I mean…
The higher we climbed the more relieved I felt because the less real it seemed. The plane bucked and rocked. I was sitting on Ingemar’s lap, hoping that that thing poking into me was part of a harness but feeling vulnerable enough not to care if it wasn’t. He showed me the altimeter strapped to his wrist at 5000ft intervals and pointed things out through the window. I couldn’t hear him over the engine.
Two people jumped at 12,000ft, and when the door at the back of the airplane was thrown open the little cabin exploded with wind. We flew a bit higher.
We reached 15,000ft and the door was opened again and the wind poured in and one by one the others went, and my God, it’s the way they fall. Then it was just me. Ingemar shuffled toward the exit with me strapped to his front like some ugly giant baby. I’d gone limp and offered no help. Mac was clinging to the outside of the plane on a step close to the tail.
Fast as a good catholic, I crossed myself
And then… I was falling falling and SCREAMING. At some point, I heard myself screaming as if I had detached from my body, like what’s supposed to happen when your soul goes up to heaven and watches the flesh and blood of you die…
I stopped screaming. I don’t know how long I had been screaming for but I was still in freefall. Falling at terminal velocity (about 200kph), you cover 10,000ft in 60 seconds, and it takes a further 1000ft for the parachute to open.