23 January 2011

VPs Skydive with Sydney Skydivers

Hearing: Watercolor - Pendulum

We interrupt our regular Cabin Crew Wannabe postings for a post that was screaming at 14,000ft in the making...

For my birthday a couple of months ago i decided to do something drastic, something insane, something completely incredible...i decided to throw myself out of a perfectly good working plane...

...of course i was strapped to a guy at the time...and that guy had 2 parachutes strapped on his back but still its not every day that a normally sane person will willingly throw themselves out of a functioning aircraft.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Every year for my birthday i like to do something different to mark the year. Last year it was skydiving, the year before was a week with my friend O who flew in to Sydney, unfortunately the year before that was lame but 2005 i was in a plane flying home to Sydney from Damascus and 2004 i was in Scotland visiting the Rosslyn Chapel and so on.

2010 i wanted something different, i was tossing up between visiting Uluru, Skydiving or Abseiling. Uluru proved too expensive at the time and abseiling wasn't too crazy to put it on the map. That left skydiving and when chatting with my friend A, he was even more eager than me, egging me on to do it and encouraging me. He said that he'd trained for a solo dive once but the trainer ran off with the money before he could complete it and how he wished he could do it now...*evil grin*....

Me: "Well why don't you do it with me?"
A: "When are you thinking of doing it?"
Me: "On my birthday but i can do it around that time too"
*quick check to see when A was available and would be in Sydney and date decided on*
A: "OK sure" *huge smile from A*
Me: "Cool, I'll check with the company and book it then let you know the details"
*A's smile falters...*

So A was roped into going with me, poor guy - he said it was one of the scariest things he has ever done. The night before we were due to jump he sent me an SMS "You were supposed to change your mind by now!"

Off we went one sunny morning down to Picton where Sydney Skydivers is based. We filled in forms that basically said that we wanted photos/videos to show how terrified we were and wont sue them if we were injured or killed ourselves.

Outside as we waited to be called to our deaths we watch the sky become patched with the bright colours of parachutes and notice that everyone lands safely. I guess it is an everyday thing for sane people to throw themselves out of planes, then again, A would probably debate whether that makes them sane at all. There were a lot of guys and girls there and not all of them were there for the tandem jumps. Most were doing solo dives or practicing formations.

Goodness knows how many times we had to pee before the loudspeakers crackled our names. Half nervous and half excited, we trudged over to get into our gear, meet the instructors and receive those all important instructions.

A and I gearing up

A and i meet our instructors both of which are very professional and have over 20years experience each. For my instructor, this is his second job, his day job is training military personnel in skydiving - go figure. I assume that given the expensive nature of this kind of activity one would only build up experience if they were loaded with $$$ or it was their job. But i digress, once all formalities are done, we head out to wait for our plane. Given the large number of people skydiving that day the center is using a Sky-Van which opens at the rear rather than the smaller one with the side door. It lands, taxies up to us and we all pile in for the agonising trip up to 14,000ft. There are at least 20 people going up with us for solo jumps or formation practice, the ride up feels long and as i look around at the faces, i can see that while they are experienced divers, each still has nerves and their own method of dealing with it.

A and the SkyVan

At one point A who is sitting opposite me points at the window behind me and mouthed something i don't quite understand. I sit up and peek outside to see that we were level with the clouds...holy cr@p! We are high, oh so very high! He told me later that it wasn't the clouds he was talking about, he had noticed a Virgin Blue plane cruise past and it had hit him how high we were and how wrong it was to be jumping from this height...suffice it to say that it probably didn't help his nerves.

Reaching our altitude the traffic lights inside the door illuminate indicating ready, everyone stands up and prepares themselves. A and i get strapped to our guys. The next thing i know the doors are open and the plane lurches sickeningly with each person that jumps out. We shuffle forwards, A in front and I'm the last. Another person jumps, shuffle-shuffle, another person jumps, lurch, shuffle-shuffle, another, shuffle...i can see clouds and in the distance the ground appears to float by...A's turn...i don't even register his jump. "Feet up!" barks my instructor, somehow i comply, lean my head back and..........

Lining up for the jump
OMG...there goes A....what am i doing??!!!


watch myself jump out of the plane.You know you cant scream during freefall? I tried. I read somewhere that screaming actually helps instead of just clamming up but all the wind just goes into your mouth. You cant talk/be heard either unless you really yell in which case you can faintly be heard.

50 seconds of freefall felt an eternity, initially i felt like i was underwater, you know that feeling when your swimming or mucking around with friends in the water and some water accidentally goes up your nose? It was like that, but i figured out pretty quickly that it was because i had my head up and the wind was rushing up my nose! So i was like 'stuff looking up for the camera' (it was mounted on the wrist of my instructor) and bent my head down to breathe. Once that was sorted i managed to still have time to take in the experience, the feeling of not so much falling but being suspended in the air while the wind rushed past (boy was it cold!), the clouds below and the fields beyond that.

Finally reaching the altitude required, my instructor tugs open the parachute and we hit the breaks and start to float.

When i was i kid i used to dream about touching a cloud or holding it in my hand, i used to think they were solid - i blame the opening scene of Mary Poppins for that - and when i was a Flight Attendant, part of the thrill was being above clouds and seeing all the different shapes they make and occasionally seeing a lightning storm cast electric light through the puffs and swirls of pink clouds.
I finally got my dream - sort of - it wasn't something i expected or thought about when i booked this insanity but it just happened that while gliding down my instructor took us through a big cloud...everything went white and misty...i was a kid again and i stretched out my hands to try and grab hold of this cloud...

Oh look the ground...
Trying to fulfill a childhood dream and touch a cloud


Me: I cant see anything, how do you know where your going?
Instructor: I don't!

You'll be surprised to hear that i actually laughed at this! I didn't panic, and sure enough once we broke through the bottom we could see everything and he guided us towards the drop zone. Believe it or not, i found it very peaceful and serene. Being so high up, the world is quiet, the views stretch off into the distance and for a moment the world is yours. Not bad at all for a day job, or as my instructor put it..."it pays the bills".

Through the cloud and enjoying the view

I hear "Legs up" and the spell is broken, the end feels faster than the beginning in a weird twist of time and before i know it I've landed on my butt and my instructor is struggling with the parachute that insists on staying airborne. Untangled finally the whole exhilarating experience rushes upon me and I'm laughing and walking back thankfully in one piece - take that disclaimer!

Sweet, sweet solid earth...My instructor congratulates me on not killing the both of us.

Call me crazy but i would do the whole thing again without a moments hesitation. The adrenalin/terror/excitement is indescribable and each person has a different experience; even though A and i jumped the same day, the same time with the same company we both had a different experience but one thing is for sure, it was one we couldn't stop talking about later!

So if you ever get the chance to do something like this, i say, GO FOR IT!


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