Friday, July 29, 2005
In 1997 I jumped out of a perfectly good plane while it was in the air. I had just recently moved to San Francisco from New York city for a job at Oracle as a UI Designer. I didn't know anyone in the Bay Area, but I was attracted to the prospect of living in SF and Oracle had a really snazzy 4,400 sq ft gym. I figured if I didn't like it I could always move back to NYC. The only person I really knew was Paolo, a friend who had recruited me to work at Oracle. Early on Paolo introduced me to Sebastian, another new Oracle employee who was from Argentina.
Sebas and I were hanging out one day and he said he'd always wanted to try skydiving. I said that would be cool and that if he ever wanted to do it I'd be game. The Friday of that week he called me up and said he'd made an appointment for the two of us in Hollister, CA for the next morning at 7am.
We got up brutally early and made the drive to Hollister which is way the hell over in nowheresville. We signed in and waited. And waited. And waited. Finally we realized that they were doing a training and safety class inside for the jumpers and we were missing all of it. When they came out of the class we somehow still managed to go on the jump.
This was a tandem jump, meaning a jumpmaster would be strapped to my back and he would operate the chute. This way we could go up higher and freefall for a good 30 seconds before he pulls the ripcord. My guy's name was Bill. I also had the option of having the entire thing photographed and videotaped. This means another expert jumper will jump alongside with you while operating the cameras attached to her helmet with her teeth. Sweet, I signed up for that.
It was a full plane. There was no door to the hatch. We climbed to 13,000 ft ? (and I could be totally wrong about this height, I really don't know since we had missed the safety traning class.) My jumpmaster and I were the last on the plane to jump. This meant that I saw everyone else lean out and disappear over the hatch. Slowly and awkwardly, since Bill was tied to my back, we made our way to the open hatch. Between the doorway and the earth is air. The horizon looked like it curved just a little. Lots of trapezoidal farmland like a jigsaw puzzle.
My videographer, Jane, climbed out the hatch before us and hung onto the doorway outside of the plane, waiting for us to jump out. We leaned over together and then we're falling. I begin to yell exultantly with Jane about 5 yards away flying in front of us. I could barely hear my own screaming. Jane is circling us. I'm Superman, dammit! Superman!
Then Bill lets me know he's about to open the chute. He does. I feel a slight bouncy pull as we slow our descent. And then another few bounces. A few seconds later, Bill tells me to look up and I see the open chute. He hands me the reins and I steer for a little while. The one thing that struck me the most was how quiet it was. Beautifully quiet. I was also very out of breath, since all my yelling had me gasping for air but the oxygen was thin at that height. I sort of hyperventilate the whole way down. But i didn't care I was so exhilarated.
As we near the ground, Bill takes over the reins of the chute. The ground is coming up kind of fast and he says in my ear, "When I say 'Stand up', just stand up. Okay, Stand up." I stood up. And that was how we landed. Perfection.
A van picked us up to bring us back to base and while in the van Bill asked Jane, our videographer, "Hey, did you see what happened with our chute?"
"Yeah," said Jane, "I thought I saw something, but then I had to pull my own."
"It didn't open all the way," Bill said. "Half the canopy was folded under itself. I kept pulling and pulling to get it to open all the way. I thought to myself I'm going to pull just one more time and if it doesn't work, I'll have to rip this one loose and go to reserve." (Every jumpermaster has two chutes, the second is a backup/reserve in case the first malfunctions.)
"Well, that last pull did it. It unfolded and it was ok."
And i'm sitting there, listening to all this, happy as a lark because there's tons of adrenaline still flowing through my body because I had just jumped out of a perfectly good airplane and lived to tell the tale.
I tried to view the canopy malfunction on my video tape they gave me. But they actually edited it out! There's a shifty jump right when our chute opens to when Jane's own chute opens. Bummer. Would've liked to have seen that.