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On the morning of May1st 2016 I jumped, or rather slid, out of a plane over Wollongong at 14,000 feet.
It was a tandem jump, meaning that I had an instructor strapped to my back.
Striding Confidently Before Going Up
At that height the curvature of the earth is quite evident. There was an air-show underway at the airport we took off from and we were soon looking down on the planes of the RAAF Roulette aerobatic display team. They looked like little model aircraft flying in perfect formation.
14,000 feet above Wollongong
RAAF Roulettes - two hands full of toy planes seen from above.
My one-time place of work, the Bluescope steelworks, looked a brown smudge and the outer harbour like a puddle in the embrace of the slender arms of its breakwaters, snatched from the Tasman Sea.
We were to be second out but were gazumped. We settled for third.
Our feet went out first, legs tucked tucked under the plane and as soon as our knees bent under we lost balance and were effectively pulled out the door by the slipstream. After tumbling a couple of times, due to me not holding my head back far enough, we stabilised face down and did those thumbs up; high five; things for the instructor's camera. It was chilly on my face and my ears ache when they are very cold. They were soon very cold. The wind speed is around 200 km/h. That's terminal velocity face down so the chill factor is quite high.
The freefall seems longer than it is. There is plenty of time to look around and attempt to smile for the camera. My instructor waited a bit longer to pop-the-chute than the first two out. We zoomed past the gazumpers and were first down.
Plummeting towards earth face down at 200 km/h should be terrifying but somehow it's not. The experience could be better described as captivating. No wonder some wait too long to pop-their-chute. Objects below: trees; cars; houses; are so tiny and the wind is so powerful that it doesn't seem real somehow. The rational brain knows that there is a main parachute and a reserve and the subconscious brain simply rejects it as being very high in the same way as one might be cautious at the edge of a cliff. The only fright I experienced was a second or two of moderate terror at being pulled from a plane by my feet and finding us both tumbling, apparently out of control. Once stable I experienced no fear at all. I could liken it to recovering successfully from a high speed skid when driving. A sort of elation swept over me that things were stable again.
It was an amazing experience yet I would just as soon have popped a bit earlier, to my taste the parachute part was not long enough.
To quote from the promotional material: From 14,000 feet, the freefall lasts approximately 65 seconds followed by a parachute ride of 5-7 minutes depending on the number of turns done while in the air. I will take their word for it.
The parachute ride is extremely slow and comfortable after the freefall. By that time you are closer to the ground and everything below is more interesting. Like the view out of a plane after take-off. The instructors do a bit of turning and scooting about. It's rather nice to be like superman: 'Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.'
Coming in to land
With the ram-air parachute they use and a 30 knot breeze we were more or less stationary relative to points below into the wind, falling directly towards them, but doing 60 relative to the ground with the wind. The rectangular ram-air parachutes allow amazing precision when setting down, a quantum leap from the old circular ones my father had in his WW2 RAF Hurricane that may well have landed the user in a tree or a lake.
People generally want to do it again. I certainly wouldn't say no but once was adequate to satisfy my curiosity. Bungee Jumping next?
On the promotional sites you will read that it is an amazingly safe sport, compared to say scuba diving, because only one in 150,000 jumps ends in death. Some say its safer than driving a car. But there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. If someone got killed every 150,000 times someone drove off in a car, or travelled 14,000 feet, the road toll would be horrendous. Nevertheless I'm happy to believe that it's safer than skiing black runs and accidents usually avoid all that unpleasant business of recovering in hospital.
Skydiving is a great experience. I can recommend it.
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