By: Don Simmons, Lakeview Village resident
It never, ever crossed my mind that someday I would be jumping out of a perfectly good airplane at 14,500 feet while living at a continuing care retirement community. But I’ve done it—twice: The first time was on Oct. 10, 2013, and again this year on Sept. 27. I was so enthralled, spellbound and awestruck with last year’s skydiving event that I wanted to repeat the experience. So I was a participant along with seven other residents and staff members at Lakeview Village’s event to raise money for its “Good Samaritan Fund.” The fund assists residents who have outlived their financial resources and can no longer afford the full cost of their monthly fees through no fault of their own.
This year, my son, two daughters and my son-in-law were also able to jump with me. This year’s jump was not a perfect carbon copy of last year’s skydive in several ways. As I was sitting there on the bench waiting, I did not have the previous butterflies and the same apprehension of the unknown like I did last year. Having conquered most of my fear of the freefall, I was ready and didn’t feel scared of jumping out the open door. I sort of felt a little more relaxed and was better able to enjoy the whole experience. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy last year, I just felt a little more comfortable the second time around.
When we were still ascending in altitude, we happened to be looking out our side windows and noticed a turkey vulture or buzzard that came within about a foot of getting hit by the wing tip of our plane but didn’t. It was at about 1,000 to 1,500 feet up and we were surprised to see the bird up at that altitude.
There was a small light fixture up on the side above my window with two colored lights, a red color and the other just a clear color. Once the red light came on, it was time to jump. I have no answer why it was red and not green (which means GO to me). When the red light came on, the four solo jumpers jumped out, one at a time and then, since I was the closest to the door, it was my time to jump. Even at 9,000 feet, I could not make out structures on the ground, not even the airport. When we started rocking our bodies back and forth at the open door and counting down, 3 – 2 – 1 – and jump, I wasn’t able to have any leverage to spring and jump out the door so we just did a summersault on my left side but everything turned out OK. So again, I did one of my famous or infamous unconventional and unplanned 360-degree summersault. Also I forgot to yell out “Geronimo” again, for the second time.
Of course there still was that rush of adrenaline and excitement going out the open door. The temperature at 14,200 feet wasn’t as bad as it was last year. With the ground temperature at 80 degrees, the temperature at 14,200 feet was 50 degrees (30 degrees colder) and falling at 120 mph, made the wind chill feel like 37 degrees. The tremendous wind pressure sure did push the goggles very hard against my forehead but it really did not hurt me that much. And again there was the same experience of the wind rushing into my nose. My ears did close up this time due to the increase in atmospheric pressure, similar to the rapid descent in coming down in an elevator in a tall skyscraper. All I had to do was to take a hold of my nose and close my mouth and blow.
As soon as we jumped, the drogue chute popped open and the freefall of 9,000 feet lasted about 60 seconds, but it did not seem as long as it did last year. But everything was happening in the freefall in such fast motion, you had to keep your focus on what you were told. Once we reached an altitude of 3,200 feet, I reached back on my right side and pulled on a small ball attached to the cord to open the main parachute. Then there was one gigantic and powerful jerk when the chute opened and we could talk to one another. I took a hold of the two hand controls and we made several right and left turns and some circles by just pulling down on either the right or left-hand hold.
It was an extremely beautiful sunny day even with the clouds and we were still thousands of feet above the clouds. Some of our jumpers were able to go through some clouds even though it is sort of dangerous because of the limited visibility. You can’t really see very good and you don’t want to accidentally run into your fellow skydiver. But I bet those fortunate jumpers felt like being “on cloud nine.” A couple of our skydivers were able to see a complete circle rainbow close to the clouds. One of our jumpers was able to go through the middle of the rainbow! When I got closer to the ground, I could finally make out the physical structure of various buildings and then finally I spotted the airport and landing strip. As we approached closer I could see the people below and started waving and yelling to them.
We made a perfect landing right on target with our feet extended straight out in front of us, touching down on our rear and without being dragged hardly any distance at all. The whole experience of skydiving was over in about seven minutes. It is not easy for me to come up with the right words to exactly describe the experience but I will give it my best try. Emotionally, it was an amazing, incredible, thrilling, exciting, jubilant, elated, ecstatic, exhilarating, fantastic, euphoric, and a triumphant experience to me when it was all over. And on another level, I was moved by some sort of spiritual dimension, it was like being in seventh heaven: it was celestial, divine, saintly, sacred, supernatural and magical. To stand there on the threshold of that open door and look out and over the Earth—such an impressive, breathtaking and awe-inspiring view—I couldn’t help but feel inspired by the power of God, and the reverence of God’s gift of our world.
Skydiving is certainly not an ordinary experience one has everyday. I was able to fill my outdoor adventurous spirit once again and achieved another sense of accomplishment. And, of course, it was especially fun and gratifying to have my family jump with me, an incredible and memorable moment of elation and delight that will stay with me the rest of my life. Also it was great to enjoy the fun participating with other Lakeview Village residents and the camaraderie between all of us and the Skydive Kansas City Company’s professional skydivers.