If ever I was going to do a skydive, today was the day to do it – perfect blue skies, a bit of a breeze, visibility for miles around. I was one of 10-12 other Hospice jumpers who were doing a tandem skydive in support of the Hospice of St Francis. Some of us had already met before for a coffee, so it was nice to recognise some faces and share our nerves as we sipped coffee and waited for the action to start.
I’d been warned about all sorts of side-effects from the skydiving – painful sinuses, feeling sick, not being able to breathe, etc. So there was some apprehension – how would my body respond to the altitude? What if something went wrong? Well, I reasoned to myself, at least it would be over very quickly!
An instructor gave us all a short briefing before we were told which flight we would each be on. I was allocated to flight 4, which meant that I had a couple of hours to kill before my jump. We watched the early skydivers going out and floating back in, and hoped our landings would be as effortless as theirs.
Before I knew it, my name was being called, and I was introduced to my instructor Chris. We walked across to the hangar where I climbed into my jumpsuit and was put in to my harness. Any worries I had about the cold were quickly dissipating – I had a snug skull helmet to keep my ears warm, and a double-layered pair of gloves. As we walked across to the airstrip a tiny plane was taxiing around ready to collect us. On we clambered, facing backwards down the plane, legs astride a long bench either side of the plane. I was tightly squeezed between Shep and my cameraman Paul.
The flight took approximately 15 mins before we reached the altitude of 13,000 ft. During the flight Chris was quietly tightening my harness, checking from behind that I was safely secured to him. Paul, my cameraman, took a few video shots of me behind him, and then suddenly the door was open, and people were one by one dropping out of it in almost rhythmic order. Paul swung to the left edge of the door space and turned to film me as I was slid down the aircraft towards the exit. I concentrated on the instructions: ‘Wrap your legs under the aircraft, arch your back, and tilt your head back’. And then suddenly we were falling.
It didn’t actually feel like falling – it felt as though I was hardly moving – but we were actually descending at a rate of 120mph. It felt like being buffeted or cushioned by a stiff wind. The ‘banana’ exit puts the body into the classic freefall position, face down with arms and legs bent upwards. Paul was filming me throughout, freefalling himself an arm’s length away from me, so I tried to look as relaxed as I could (though in truth I was just concentrating on holding my position as still as I could!). After a minute of freefall, there was a jerk and I was hoisted upright as the parachute billowed out above us. No more rushing wind and noise – just peace, silence, stillness.
I hung in my harness, catching my breath and gazing in wonder at the patchwork carpet of fields and countryside below us. What beauty, and what a gift to be able to enjoy it all in this way. Thank you God, I mouthed silently. And thank you, Dad, in whose memory this jump was being done.
Towards the end of our descent Chris started to swing and swoop me around, adjusting our direction as we got nearer and nearer to the landing circle. Every turn made my stomach lurch, like being on a whirling rollercoaster. Soon we could wave down at the crowd of family and friends looking up at us from below, and next minute we were gliding in to a gentle stop on the grass.
An amazing experience, and a privilege to have had the opportunity to try something so exhilarating while at the same time raising funds for the Hospice. Would I do it again? Absolutely!