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Monday, June 20, 2011

Sydiving = Life Divided by Death

06/19/2011 Father's day
I am a skydiver. On the weekends at Skydive Taft, I am employed as a Tandem Jump Master, an arial cameraman, and an (AFF) Accelerated Free Fall Instructor. I teach humans to fly. In the case of the tandem jump, I strap you into a harness, then from behind you I connect you to my harness by four attachment points before we exit from the plane together plunging to the earth at over 120mph. The safest way to make your first skydive.

The more challenging way to make your first skydive is the AFF jump. This jump requires you take a 4-5 hour pre flight ground course where you are taught all the finer points of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane with your own parachute. You must successfully exit the aircraft assisted by two AFF instructors into a stable arch position with your chin up, hips pushing forward, arms in a 90 degree position next to your head and your legs shoulder width apart with a slight bend at the knees trailing behind you.
You must perform a circle of awareness (COA) checking your altitude and reporting in with your instructors. You must stay altitude aware at all times and deploy your parachute at a safe altitude designated by your instructors. And finally you must safely land your modern forward moving square parachute (canopy) on the Dropzone landing area avoiding buildings, power lines, turbulence and other skydivers. This challenge is not to be taken lightly, as your life is on the line. The day of June 19th 2011, two individuals did not take this challenge seriously enough.

I was not aware the morning of June 19, 2011 that my skills as an AFF instructor were going to be tested to limits by a five foot, 110 pound Asian woman who seemed very knowledgable about the training she received for this skydive. This candidate assured me of her readiness and I reassured her that it was ok to be nervous and that her flight instructors Travis and myself were going to make sure that she would be ok. But as the time approached for her to make the skydive, I could see her nervousness starting to take control of her body and mind.
Jumpsuit suit zipped up, parachute rig on her back, altimeter on her left wrist, and helmet and goggles in hand, the reality of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane was now upon this student. But it is always on the plane ride to altitude where I get to see the true essence of an individual. Because you never really know yourself until you are faced with the prospect of having to jump out of a plane. This student went from happy go lucky to OMG what the fuck did I get myself into. At 7000 feet AGL where Travis and I were making our final gear checks on the students parachute rig and making sure that her radios worked, we asked her if she was ready and willing to make this skydive. She replied yes. That was her fist mistake. Her second mistake was exiting the aircraft in the "fetal position of fear" instead of the the "arch of confidence" that was taught to her. This caused the three of us to flip on our backs which forced Travis to have to release his grip on the student so that I could correct her body position by forcibly flipping her back over so that she would fall belly to earth. I can't explain the skill it took to accomplish this maneuver. Once we were stable Travis was able to re-grip on the other side. By this point, it was time for the student to deploy her parachute but it was obvious that although her body was in freefall her spirit and heart were left in the plane. Therefor I had to deploy her parachute for her, deploy my own parachute and land as quickly as possible so I could get on the radio and help her fly her parachute safely to the ground. She had a less than perfect landing but was able to walk away from this skydive without a scratch.

The other student was her boyfriend. He suffered a major panic attack on the plane almost vomiting on his instructors. He ended up not attempting the skydive. I'm pretty sure that I will never see either of them again attempting another AFF skydive but I do hope that they return and do a tandem skydive. The moral of this story is not the obvious one "know your limits". The moral of the story is that I am one bad ass mother fucker that can save your life falling through the sky at over 120mph!!!!