I think everyone deserves at least one. Here's mine.
|There is nothing that speaks to the soul like being right out on the edge. There are no words that can adequately describe that feeling. Stepping through the door and you feel the wind start to tear at your skin. The steady hum of the airplanes engines left behind in an instant. All you hear is the deafening blast of wind howling passed your ears. The sensations as you fall through the air more like moving in it, like a swimmer in the water. Seeing the ground rushing up to meet you, the view of the world from that point, I could see for miles. There is a joy that would light in me when I was at that place between two worlds. The one of the birds the other of man, flight but for a brief moment in time.
That day was no different than the any of the other s day that I jumped, at least in my mind. I rose early anxious to jump. I drove to the drop zone which was located on small grass strip airport just outside of Covington, Louisiana. A little over the speed limit as usual. The radio on and somewhat loud, the window open so that I could hear and feel the air. I pulled in the parking lot and unloaded my gear. Looking over to the ramp area there she was, a new plane. Well new to everyone at the drop zone anyway. I picked out my spot for the day, laid my rig out and went to look her over. On the way I ran into one of the drop zone owners and asked him about the new addition. “Yeah they bought it while I was on vacation. I wasn’t real happy about how that happened. I’m going to sell him my share of the drop zone.” “No shit”, I said. “That really sucks he did that, just roped you into that responsibility without even consulting you.” I went and looked her over. She was nice, the newest plane we ever had there. A Beechcraft Queen Air, twin geared engines, seats eight jumpers. I was excited about jumping from her.
I returned to my gear and proceeded to pack my rig and then get on the manifest. I was already hearing from the others about how nice it was, this just added to the anticipation. Then it happened; I heard talk from the pilots about having to turn on the boost pumps on jump run. The right engine seemed to lose power when they pulled the throttles back. There was a mechanic there that took a look at her. I went along; I figured it would be a good opportunity to get some hands on experience on planes since I was going to school to be an aircraft mechanic at the time. He opened the fuel strainer and found small pieces of hard black material in the screen and removed it. At first they weren’t sure what it was. After they experienced the power lose a second time, again removing this unidentified material from the fuel strainer. They looked over the pieces and determined it maybe the fuel bladder. After some discussion amongst them they decided to keep a close eye on it. If it got any worse they would stop operations. They figured they would really look it over Monday when they had it at the shop.
My first jump that day was from our Cessna 182. There were four of us aboard; I was probably the most experienced. We planned for me and the girl jumping to pull the base, the starting point of our formation off the strut. The other two guys were in the door and on the step. They would fly to us and we would build a star. I talked with them about what we needed to do. The guys felt they had it no problem. The girl had never really done any relative work before and was a little anxious. I explained to her that as long as she kept eye contact as we left the strut and maintain a hard arch we should be ok. We went over two or three maneuvers we were going to try. I felt like we’d be lucky to get the star built. Having been through this myself I knew what was going to happen. As we leave the strut the girl being inexperienced would look down instead of at me. This would cause us to become unstable and we’d tumble. The two guys would spend their time chasing after us. True to form it happened just that way. It was still fun, but a little disappointing.
After the jump we got together to talk about it. Everyone seem to feel like they learned something, I hope that was true. While I had been in the air a buddy I’d jump with several times had arrived. After packing my parachute we talked and planned a jump. We got on the manifest; turns out they were looking to get a load together for the Queen Air. We decided to take it; there was a six-way onboard with us. We’d jump first they’d follow. We hadn’t planned anything real special to do, basic rw or relative work. On the way to altitude the guys in the six-way formation offered to have us join them and make it an eight-way. At first we were kind of reluctant. The opportunity to jump with more people was hard to pass up and we were in. It was now an eight-way.
We let the pilot know that we changed plans. The guys filled us in on what the jump was and we made our mental changes. Now on jump run we now shuffled ourselves around for the new exit plan. We were in the middle of the group. Packed up tight, leaning towards the door; the engines were brought back. “Set!” came the call from the door. “Ready!” everyone replied now leaning away from the door. It was really a smooth rocking motion. “Go!” With that we left the airplane, head long towards the earth. The search for the base was on, they were already far below me. There was something not right though. As I passed through the door I was bumped in the back of the head. I though it may have been one of the guys that followed me out. I looked over my right shoulder to see if they were still close. Nothing not a soul anywhere near me. I had an immediate sinking feeling. I looked over my left shoulder my feeling of dread had been confirmed. The container that held my parachute, in its bag and stowed lines had opened and the bag was now flipping helplessly on my back in the wind. This was not a good thing; my pilot chute was still in my leg strap, a horse shoe malfunction. I had plenty of altitude to deal with the situation though, about six thousand feet. Traveling at one hundred and twenty miles an hour though doesn’t give you all day. I still had to work fast to clear it or cut it away and ride my reserve. I grabbed my pilot chute and put it into the wind. That part of the malfunction was now cleared but I wasn’t out of the woods yet. I now had another problem, a bag lock.
The bag that holds the parachute also has the suspension lines attached. They are held in place by rubber bands, located at each end of the bag. They cross long ways over the open end of the bag this is what keeps the parachute in place inside until deployment. A bag lock is when the stowed lines are not able to be pulled from their stowed position because one or more of the suspension line stows has come out and passed underneath another stow preventing it from pulling free.
Now falling in a seated position, with my legs spread like a gymnast stretching on a mat. Above me my pilot chute pulls at the bag straining to bring the parachute out but to no avail. Below me I look between my open legs as the ground rushes towards me. I look back up. I know what needs to happen but I really don’t want to take a reserve ride. With no hope of clearing this mess about my head I reluctantly grab my cut away handle and reserve ripcord. I quickly review in my head what I’m getting ready to do. I’ve run that scenario in my head millions of times before every jump. My task is to pull the cut away handle and maneuver my body from vertical, well seated at this point on to my stomach. This is necessary because my reserve chute is on my back.
The moment of truth has arrived; I pull the cut away handle. I then fall over face first then pull the reserve ripcord. As I fall away from that mess I don’t bother to look back. “Any minute now”, my chute will open and I will have time to slow everything down. Something’s not right. I should be feeling the familiar tug of the reserve as it fills with air slowing my descent. There’s nothing though. “Look over your shoulder fool” I say to myself, it will disrupt the air flow and help open the canopy. I turn my head to the right and see over me a long white sheet flapping in the air like a flag in a storm. It’s not opening! I grab the risers. These attach the suspension lines to the container and in turn my harness. Reaching as far up them as I can I then pull them out and down towards me trying to open my chute. It seems to help. Within a second of that the parachute starts to open but is slammed close just as quickly. It does this several more times before it finally flutters open.
As things slow I now take the time to find and chase my lost canopy, still in its bag floating under the pilot chute to the ground. I follow it as long as I can until the possibility of landing in a tree or worse hitting a power line forces me to turn away. I’m still high enough that I make it back to the drop zone with little trouble. Once on the ground I remove my gear and hop a ride in one of our planes to see if I might be able to locate my chute. It’s no use though; the chute never came out of the bag so the chances of me seeing it from the air are extremely slim. We return to the drop zone and I proceed to pack up what’s left of my stuff and drive to an area I know is close to where I last saw my chute drifting.
Several hours have passed as I search and all in vain. I am becoming more agitated as I search. I finally decide to eat and go home. I’ll continue in a few days, I have school to attend tomorrow. So with that I leave and go home.
The following day I’m looking forward to sharing my experience with my classmates. Instead I was greeted with the questions of had I seen the crash and what happened. I was taken back; I hadn’t seen the news the night before so was completely unaware of the accident. Shortly after I left the drop zone the new Queen Air had crashed with a full load of jumpers. It wasn’t until about mid week that I returned to look for my chute and find out what happen. I went to the drop zone first, they have an area picture and I wanted to refresh my memory before searching again. I also wanted to see if I could get some pictures of the plane. While there I talked to Chas, one of the owners. He told me what had happened.
As the plane was taking off they retracted the landing gear, they were a little under half way down the runway and not very far off the ground, less than fifty feet. Anyway, shortly after they brought the gear up the left engine died. The plane rolled to the left and its wingtip hit the ground. The plane then cart wheeled about three times before coming to a halt. In that time one person was thrown from it, one jumped from it and a third was in the doorway when it finally stopped. Amazingly only one person was hospitalized for broken vertebrae.
I returned to my search shortly after that conversation. Again I had no luck. I was sick to my stomach now. I had lost my parachute and didn’t have enough money to replace it. I put up signs in the area about losing my chute, thinking maybe just maybe someone might come across it. Two weeks had passed, I spent every extra minute I could, looking for it and even my Dad came to help me, still no luck. My sister’s wedding was soon and I had to postpone any further search, at least until after. We had friends and relatives to entertain as well as rehearsals to do. Wedding day came and went I would go back the next morning and spend the day looking.
Early the following morning I got ready to continue my search. I had eaten breakfast and was getting last minute things together when the phone rang. I answered and the person on the other end asked for me. He then informed me that he had my parachute, found it laying in his back yard. I told him that I was just getting ready to leave to head to the drop zone when he called. He gave me directions to his house and I was on my way.
Two malfunctions and one near fatal reserve ride got me out of a plane crash. I lost my parachute and didn’t get it back until the day after my sister’s wedding. I don’t jump any more. I can’t say that it was divine intervention that day. It has taken me years to come to terms with it. Constantly reliving it and trying to see the rhyme and reason of it. All I can say for sure is; that it’s my second chance and I’m trying to make it worthwhile.