Earlier I published a near death experience that I had participating the sport of skydiving. This one was a bit more terrifying in that it lasted a seemingly endless amount of time.
SKYDIVING ADVENTURE STORY #2 – OVER THE PINE FOREST
had been skydiving a mere week and my skydiving logbook reflected 20 dives at
the Deland (FL) airport where I had learned the sport a week earlier. I had taken the so-called Advanced
Free-fall course where on just the first skydive, the student does a free-fall
jump with two instructors carefully observing his every move. It is a course of 8 skydives, the last
of which is a “test” in which the student demonstrates his prowess to an
instructor closely following.
Passing qualifies the jumper for a basic license which allows the person
to do unsupervised jumps.
arrived at the airport on what was a very breezy morning. As I was preparing to sign-up for a
jump I heard an announcement over the PA system proclaiming that due to the
high winds, only those with at least 200 jumps would be allowed to jump. I approached the owner of the dropzone
and pled my case, pointing out that I had accomplished 20 jumps in just one
week, and hence I was very current.
He agreed and I signed up to be the 21st jumper on a load
that included a 20 person team going up for a practice session.
a jump is “spotted” by either a jumpmaster or the pilot of the aircraft. The purpose of spotting is to let the
jumpers out, based on wind conditions, such that it will put them in proximity
of the airport when it is time to deploy their parachutes.
climbed to an altitude of 13,500 feet, and this particular jump was being
spotted by the pilot of the aircraft.
The plan was to send me out first in that I was jumping solo, and I
would then be followed by the 20 person team planning to do some formation
diving. The green “jump light”
illuminated, and off I went on my 21st skydiving adventure. Little did I know that I was about to
get more of an adventure than I had planned.
I got stable and looked about, I noticed much to my surprise I was rapidly
drifting away from the airport. I
was a bit puzzled in that when I looked up towards the aircraft, I saw no other
jumpers exiting the plane. As I
continued to drift away from the airport, I noticed that I had now drifted over
a rather large pine forest to the Northeast of the airport.
decided to deploy my canopy much earlier than normal with the intention of
flying the parachute back towards the airport. Modern parachutes are ram air devices which allow forward
momentum. The smaller the canopy,
the faster one can fly horizontally.
Unfortunately, mine was a rather large canopy due to my inexperience,
and when it opened, I began flying backwards with the airport quickly
disappearing, and my confidence waning just as quickly.
looked down, and there was nothing but pine forest below me with 50 foot pine
trees pointing in my direction. As
I continued to fly backwards with no place to land, a feeling of panic started
overcoming me. As a 25 year
airline pilot, I was very used to dealing with emergencies, but the extensive
training a professional pilot receives renders those emergencies almost
routine. No one had given me a
tutorial on what to do with no place to land but in the midst of closely
spaced, rather tall, threatening trees.
I later discovered that the pilot, who had meant to spot the dive on the
Southwest of the airport due to the extremely brisk Southwest winds, had erred
by turning the green jump light on wrong side of the airport. The mistake was noticed immediately by
the jumper who was in charge of the 20 person group, and he directed the pilot
to fly to the opposite side of the airport so that they could deploy safely
upwind of their landing target.
was beginning to have visions of being impaled helplessly on the top of a large
pine tree as I continued to drift backwards. As I continued my descent, I began slowing my backward
progress, and finally when I got low enough so that the affect of the winds
were greatly diminished, I started making very slow forward progress.
there was no place to land other than amongst the trees. Suddenly, I spied a very small opening
in the pine trees revealing a fenced in area containing about 10 horses. I somehow maneuvered around a few last
trees surprisingly getting my extra large canopy around the branches that were
reaching out for me. I barely
cleared the top of the fence and did a somersault into the coral area with the
horses stampeding around me. I was
a jumble of nylon and parachute lines and totally covered with dirt. Spooked horses were running
everywhere. I looked up from the
ground and saw a person who apparently owned the horses on the other side of
the fence. I said, “I’m sort of
having a bad day.” He laughed and
offered to drive me back to the Deland Airport.
was so far from the airport that the drive to get me back was about 20 minutes
in duration. When I arrived, I
discovered that a search party had been deployed to retrieve my body – they
assumed that they would find a fatality.
I was happily back jumping the next day, albeit in more friendly
conditions for a novice skydiver.