Falling 12,000 feet at 120 MPH

Leaving the plane in formation.
Leaving the plane in formation.

Have you ever wanted to jump from a perfectly good airplane? If not, you might be what skydivers call a “Whuffo” which is a skydiving term meaning, “What for you want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane?” to which of course the answer is “Because the door was open.”

This week I decided it was time for another jump. Being a licensed skydiver, I can jump anywhere at any time for about $30. When I arrived at the airport or dropzone, I got on the last jump of the day.

While jumping by yourself is fun, there is nothing more exciting than jumping with a group. So I immediately set out to find three or four other people to jump with. We immediately began planning our jump, (meeker, star, donut) and spent the next 20 minutes before the jump practicing our dive plan. I’m sure to the average person we looked very strange grabbing legs and arms and waving frantically.

Finally the “now” call came to load the plane and my newfound friends and I started the long walk to board the aircraft, a Twin Otter. For those of you who have never been in a jump plane, skydiving is the only sport where complete strangers sit in each other’s laps packed in like sardines and nobody thinks twice about it. As the plane started to take off I felt my adrenaline kick in and I tried to calm my nerves by practicing my emergency procedures and going over the dive in my head. Even though this is well over my 600th jump, I can’t help but wonder why I did this.

At 9,000 feet my team grabbed hands and practiced our exit count… ready… set… go… When the red light came on and the door slid up, I felt my heart pounding in my chest as that old friend, fear, set in. The green light came on and my team shuffled to the door waiting our turn. Finally, we were up and I began my careful climb outside the plane holding on to a small handle just inside the door and the skydiver’s jumpsuit next to me. At this point, I am fighting the urge to run screaming back into the aircraft.

I made eye contact with the jumper across from me and followed the exit count ready… set… go… and left the safety of the plane, letting gravity take over. As the plane flew away, I stuck my feet straight out doing my job as outside center to keep the group from flipping over. Once we got stable the lead flashed his hands signifying the move to the next formation. All I can hear at this point is the rushing of the wind and my heart pounding in my ears.

As we fell at 120 MPH, or 1000 feet every 5 seconds, I focused on my group: flash, release, turn, grab, flash, release, turn, grab. We got through eight formations or points and then my helmet started beeping at me signifying it’s time for the jump to end at only 4,500 feet. Out of the corner of my eye I saw one of my group wave us off and I turned 180 degrees from the center and separated from my group by what is called tracking (forward movement relative to the fall).

After a few seconds my helmet began beeping faster letting me know it was time to pull my parachute. As I waved off and pulled my main, I began counting… one thousand, two thousand, three thousand and I was pulled vertical as I looked up to see the most beautiful sight in my life — a purple, blue and green parachute opening normally. As my chute opened my helmet was screaming a flatlining sound letting me know it’s now or never to get a good parachute open.

At 2000 feet, I finally had a good parachute over my head and took a moment to enjoy the pure beauty of the Colorado landscape. I then began to spiral down towards the ground setting up for my landing pattern. As I approached the field at 500 feet I placed my feet and knees together preparing for the potential hard landing, but the wind was with me and I landed on my feet standing up.

On the way back, my team and I joked about how much fun we had and what a great jump it was, but it honestly wouldn’t have mattered because every jump you walk away from is a good one. On my way home, I started dreaming about that day I win the lottery and will be able to quit my job to become a dropzone bum living a life filled with the rush that can only come from jumping out of a plane.

Editor in Chief Darin Hinman can be reached at news@collegian.com