By Don Simmons
When I was asked (many times) why I would want to jump from a perfectly good airplane, the answer was easy for me. I did not have skydiving on a “bucket list.” In fact, I really don’t have such a list to the best of my knowledge.The only desire I had was to go flying in a hot-air balloon. But since I never was able to get that accomplished, I guess skydiving was next best, exciting thing for me to do.
I thought I was on top of the world when I took four different people, my three children, Gary, Juli and Stacey, and my stepson, Ben, on separate trips to climb to the summit of Long’s Peak (14,259 feet) near Estes Park, Colo. So, I guess I wanted to beat that experience. I had rated that climb above the times I went deep-sea scuba diving in the Caribbean.
Last year I boarded the Lakeview bus to watched five Lakeview Village residents skydive, and, after I witnessed all of the excitement and the fun and energy of all of them, I kicked myself for not signing up and jumping. So right there and then I made myself a promise to do it the following year.
I talked to my doctors concerning my plans for skydiving and they both gave me their OK and said to have fun while doing it. I also talked to my three kids and two of them said to go for it, but my youngest daughter thought I was crazy and had rocks in my head.
I was just one of 15 people, (nine residents, two board members, and four staff members) who participated in Lakeview Village’s 2nd Annual “Good Samaritan Jump” on Saturday, Oct. 12. There were six women and nine men who tandem-jumped as a fundraising event and the residents’ ages ranged from 75 to 90. I really didn’t do anything special to prepare for the jump since you really can’t rehearse it.
All of the jumpers had to arrive at noon at the Butler Municipal Airport just north of Butler, Mo. We had to check in, pay our $180.00 jump fee, show our driver’s license, step on a weight scale to be sure we were not over their weight limit, indicate whether we wanted or not to have a $99.00 video made of each individual making the jump and finally, we were handed a 10-page sign-off release of responsibility form that we had to sign in case anything went wrong.
We attended a training class where we received instructions of proper body position for the freefall, what to do and what not to do. Our instructor explained the special designed parachute system he would be wearing that was built for two persons. There were actually three parachutes, the drogue chute to slow our initial freefall down, the main canopy chute plus a reserve chute that would automatically be activated at a certain altitude.
Then we watch a 25- to 30-minute video explaining in detail the hazards of skydiving that could cause life-threatening injury or death. Of course we all knew there are certain risks in jumping but … the first “funny” thing to cross my mind after viewing it was, it was too bad they didn’t show their video before we all signed off on the 10-page release of liability form or would we rethink our decisions? It was just an after thought, jokingly of course.
But when it came down to the nitty-gritty of it, I felt very comfortable knowing we were in good hands with all of the professional divers, each having over 1,000 prior jumps, not only here but across the country at other jump locations, too, and were extremely well trained. Even the people who pack the parachutes have gone through hours of rigorous requirements of the U.S. Parachute Association.
Next, each participant was fitted with a special diving harness and goggles by several of the professional instructors. We did not wear a parachute since we were jumping tandem and our professional diver was the one wearing all three parachutes.
After getting into our harness, each one was double-checked for proper fittings. The first group of divers took off at approximately 2:15 p.m. Then the next group of Lakeview jumpers of three to four—depending on how many jumpers requested a video camera person—were loaded up when the airplane returned.
The airplane just kept going up with jumpers and then returned and got the next group and so on until everybody jumped. There were six different groups of Lakeview jumpers with the last group not taking off until 4:45 p.m. and landing around 5:30 p.m.
The small twin-turbine King airplane seated about ten persons. We all straddle a long, narrow bench type of seat situated very close to one side of the plane, packed like sardines, one person very close behind the other except a couple of jumpers seated off to the side facing us. After getting seated, my professional Skydive Kansas City jumper buddy named “Pac” securely attached his harness to my harness.
It took the plane approximately 20 minutes to reach the desired altitude of 14,500 feet. It was one thing to sit there in the plane and look out the plastic window at the world below you, but holy moly, it was something when they opened the door and there wasn’t anything between me and the ground. But I did not become alarmed or scared, maybe a little tense. Each one of us were asked if we were sure we wanted to continue on with jumping before going through with it and, of course, I said, “Let’s go for it”. My photographer was already videoing me inside the plane.
When we finally got to 14,500 feet, the first men to jump were a couple of cameramen and one or two Lakeview jumpers. Then went it came to be my turn, I had to head toward the door in a crouched position and very low to the floor. Within just a few seconds, my photographer named Brian exited the airplane just before I went out the door. He literally hung on to a long metal bar mounted outside the plane just above the door with one hand and with his other hand braced himself like Spiderman.
The only error I made was in exiting the open door. I was crouched down very low right at the door with my partner strapped to me. When it came time for me and Pac to jump, the ends of both of my tennis shoes were right up again a raised small aluminum-like strip on the floor. So, when Pac told me to jump and I couldn’t lift my tennis shoes, all he had to do was just lean forward a little on me. It did not take much of a push to exit and we both did an unconventional, unplanned 360-degree somersault coming out the door.
I was going to yell out “Geronimo” to calm my nerves when I was about to exit the plane but I have to admit I sort of lost my focus and concentration when I didn’t exit the right way. But so what, I did all right according to Pac, and he said that other people have done the same thing, too.
Brian, my photographer, started taking a video of me coming out the door with his automatic camera mounted on top of his helmet without the use of his hands. As soon as I left the plane, I was hit by a big blast of air coming at 120 mph and it was much colder than I though it would be at 14,500 feet.
Also since I was exiting behind the engine, I was feeling the full force of the air from the propeller, too. It was a good thing that I wore four layers of clothing and blue jeans. With the ground temperature of 71 degrees, the temperature at 14,500 feet when we exited the plane was 30 degrees colder (at 41 degrees) with the wind chill index of making it feel like 22 degrees on my exposed skin area, particularly my face, ears and my almost-bald head.
When all three of us exited the plane it wasn’t very long before a small drogue chute deployed to slow our decent. Pac gave me hand signals by pushing on the sides of my arms and sides of my legs on what to do since the noise was too loud for each one of us to talk to other. I had to arch my body and look upwards at Brian, my photographer.
The drop of 4,000 feet lasted anywhere from 40-50 seconds until we reached the altitude of 10,500 feet when Pac pulled the cord to open our main parachute, (it seemed like eternity to me). He wore an altimeter on his left wrist that told him our altitude in feet. I was told the 40-50 second freefall was at speeds ranging from 120 to 150 m.p.h. All I was allowed to do during our freefall was to keep both arms across my chest and take a hold of my harness shoulder straps.
But once the main parachute opened, we could talk to one another and I could then hold my hands straight out in front of me and give a thumbs up. I wore big protective goggles over my glasses so I could see everything, but the force of the air was sure pushing my goggles very hard against my forehead, but it really didn’t hurt me. Also there was a rush of air that was being forced into my nose.
Surprisingly, I did not have any trouble clearing my ears on the rapid descent.
It was an extremely beautiful and gorgeous sunny day, not a cloud in sight in the sky and I was told we were looking at things 25 miles away in all directions. We floated on down the rest of the 10,500 feet and made several sharp turns, one to the left and then one to the right and then one a complete circle.
When I got closer to the ground and to the drop zone, I started waving to the crowd below. We made a perfect landing right on target with our feet extended straight out in front of us, touching down on our butts and without being dragged hardly any distance at all. The whole experience was over in about 6 to 7 minutes. All of us had an absolutely wonderful day.
It is not easy for me to come up with words that describe my feelings of what the jump meant and felt to me. But I will try and say it was thrilling, exhilarating, exciting, amazing, fantastic, unbelievable, unimaginable, and an immeasurable experience to me.
Plus my three kids, Gary, Juli and Stacey, were there to see me and cheered me on. It was also so rejuvenating, refreshing, revitalizing and invigorating to me, that I’m still young enough to be adventurous at age 78. And on top of this, I would like to jump again, the good Lord willing.
What an absolute incredible day it was for me and I could not resist celebrating the very special occasion and ending the glorious day by having my favorite meal, crisp corn tortilla chips and salsa, a pork burrito topped with Monterey melted cheese, pico de gallo sauce, guacamole, sour cream, refried beans, some rice and a big margarita with salt at one of my favorite Mexican cantinas.
When you see all of the people having such an enjoyable time, it grows on you. So I would not only encourage, but highly recommend any and all, if healthy enough, to go skydiving for a memorable experience of a lifetime, almost an “out-of-this-world” experience, or at least, something that is not an ordinary and everyday adventure!!!
Plus, we helped raise more than $25,000 for The Good Samaritan Fund, a very unique fund offered by Lakeview Village to offset the cost of care for residents who lose financial resources, through no fault of their own. It’s a very nice thing that Lakeview Village has in place.
All of the jumpers received a certificate certifying that we had successfully complete ground and aerial training and performed a sport tandem parachute jump in accordance with the basic Safety Requirements of the U.S. Parachute Association. Also we have now joined the ranks of being an official “Lakeview Village Skydiving Club” member, bringing the membership to a total of 20 members. Later Ginger Kenny mentioned, “I went skydiving and all I got was a
T-shirt” should be printed on the back of our Lakeview Village Skydiving Club shirts.