MY PARACHUTE JUMP
I have told you why I was going to do a parachute jump. It was not because it was something I had always wanted to do, because I hadn’t. It was inspired by a man approaching 80 years young who wanted to do a charity parachute jump to raise much needed funds for the rescue and re-homing of Galgos from Spain. You will have read that tragically this wonderful, caring man, who loved Greyhounds and their close cousins, Galgos, died suddenly in February, leaving his beloved wife, Donna and their rescued Greys, and some unfinished business. I undertook some of that unfinished business and did it for Charlie at 1100 hrs on Tuesday 23 July 2013 when I scrambled aboard a light aircraft with a large hole in the side of its fuselage.
Altitudes (www.parachutisme.net) is a small company based at La Rochelle Ile de Ré airport in France, who are passionate skydivers and who provide the facility for anyone to experience the exhilaration of skydiving without the necessity of going through the extensive and expensive training and medical testing. Christian Bontet, the proprietor, is a jovial man who is able (he says) to communicate in most languages, and is the principal skydiver. In the briefing Christian told me the basics of what would happen and what he expected of me, which was effectively “Do as I tell you and you won’t get hurt!” I was told how to position myself in the aircraft before falling out, what to do with my arms and legs at the start, during and at the landing at the end of the jump, and relax and enjoy the jump.
The plane was small. It had a high wing and one seat, for the pilot. For a small additional donation I will tell you ladies about the handsome young pilot! We skydivers sat on the floor facing backwards. Before embarking we donned our harnesses and Christian carefully checked the fitting and tightness. Then onboard we were firmly clipped together and the plane took off. Conversation was nigh on impossible as the noise of the engine was so loud.
We reached the jump altitude of 3000 mtrs (10,000 ft), the plane levelled off, the engine note reduced, we swung our legs out of the plane, arms in the instructed position, and the only part of me in contact with the plane was my bum. “Ready?” said a voice in my ear. I nodded and we were gone. Immediately the first surprise happened as we turned a full summersault before settling in the skydiving position of arms and legs spread wide. Surprises came thick and fast – apart from the force of the wind as we fell, deforming our cheeks, there was absolutely no sensation of falling. Looking down and all around the ground that we were rushing towards everything seemed to be in slow motion, it felt as though we would take ages to get down.
A tap on my hand told me that the parachute was about to open and seconds later I was feeling very thankful for the earlier careful checking of my straps as the pull of gravity was arrested by the ‘chute and my groin took the full force of the braking. The noise of the rushing air stopped and we were again able to hold a conversation. It was very peaceful with the only sound being the flapping of the canopy as the air exited. Only when we started to approach the designated landing field did things start to happen quickly. Suddenly the ground was approaching at an alarming rate. My mentor gave the anticipated instruction “Legs up – DON’T TOUCH THE GROUND!” and we landed, making contact with the ground with the same part of the anatomy that had been my last contact with the plane. It was over all too quickly.
The views from the sky above of La Rochelle, the Ile de Ré, the beautiful curving sweep of the bridge joining the two, the submerged oyster beds and the sailing yachts were breathtaking. I had wanted to take my camera to get some shots but it was not allowed, very wisely so.
Would I do it again? Too right I would, but only to raise money for a worthy cause! What did I say as we left the plane? “This is for you Charlie!” His picture did the jump with me. I hope he would have approved.
Christian had told us where to go outside the hangers, so we would be able to watch everything. There was a big grass area which was the landing point so our friends and I positioned ourselves with cameras ready. We could hear the drone of the plane high in the sky but the only specks we could see were birds. Roger was manning David’s camera with its big telephoto lens.
The plane’s engine noise changed – we craned our necks, where were they?
Roger spotted them first, ‘they’re out,’ he shouted as he pointed the camera and started snapping.
We watched the small black speck in the sky floating and swinging, gradually getting nearer – magical – and a perfect landing.
Around the lunch table afterwards, we were all ears while David talked us through the jump and his feelings.
We had a great day which was even better when we got home and David found his sponsorship had increased hugely and the monetary target was within reach.
An incredible and very memorable day.