OMG I’m going to die …
By Sequoia Schmidt
Class #2 of the Accelerated Free Fall program began with an examination of the steps and procedures we learned in session one. Once again to a small classroom with a table and three chairs we went and toward the back of the room, I glanced up at the two harnesses still precariously suspended from the ceiling. We commenced with chanting a familiar aviation mantra:
- Look red
- grab red
- peel, pull
- look silver
- grab silver
- peel, pull
Questions were being tossed in every direction:
“What happens if you can see the sky through a hole in your parachute?”
Perform emergency procedure
“You are coming close to landing, when do you flare your toggles (breaks)?”
10-12ft before landing
“What altitude do you pull your chute?”
“What do you do when this happens?“ A picture is held up in front of me that illustrates ropes above my parachute tangled together.
It’s a line twist, I must push my forearms between the two risers and kick my legs to undo the line twist, If that doesnt work, I perform the emergency procedure and cut the chute loose.
Just thinking about being in a situation like this turns my intestines into those twisted ropes.
Remember when you were a child playing on the swing set and the chains on the swing would get twisted? what would you do? I would push the chains apart and kick my legs in the opposite direction of the twist, causing my body to spin a few times until the chains above me would no longer be twisted. It’s very similar to a line twist in a parachute. We must untwist the ropes above us. To do this, we simply follow the kindergarten protocol and kick our legs. I say “simply”, but bear in mind you will be plummeting toward Earth during this process. Keeping your cool while in free fall with a line twist … may cause your inner kindergartener to come out screaming.
As our plane starts to ascend toward Neverland, one of my instructors beside me reviews the program for today’s jump. In order to pass this class we are required to follow all of the same procedures from our first jump, with one addition: forward flight.
Step one, jump out of the plane (*important step). Then we must check our altitude and relay it to our instructor, perform three practice touches to our parachute, and then the main test of this jump … to fly forward. Now, when you read this, you must erase the thought of Superman from your mind. Unlike Hollywood depictions of flight would have us believe; in reality to fly forward in the air requires your hands to move backward and your legs to straighten. It took multiple practice rounds for this to register in my mind and body – when the instructors kept saying “forward”, my mind would instantly jump to Wonderwoman’s arms thrusting into the air and that adorable outfit fluttering in the wind.
The plane door is open, the lump in my throat is swelling and with a deep breath, we jump. I feel like a fish out of water … looking down at the world coming closer and closer. Which just makes me freak out even more. Note to self: freaking out in free-fall does not help the situation! For some reason, I am reaching out in front of me to grab the air, as if that will stop my impeding death. My heart is beating a million times per minute. I feel my body shaking, not out of fear but literally moving … my instructor has his right arm attached firmly to my leg and his left arm is shaking my entire body to signal to me that I must push my hips down and keep my head up.
At no point during my freak out do I remember to look at my altimeter. My mind is in such a state of panic that I don’t think to check my altitude, which is rather important.
After I’m finally stable enough to throw my chute, I feel the pull and look up to see the parachute beginning to open, but OMG it isn’t quite there. There’s something wrong, I can sense it. My speed is slowing to almost the point it should be. I don’t see a hole in the parachute, but I can’t really see beyond the twisted lines “Kindergarten! Kindergarten!” I tell myself as my forearms come between the ropes and I kick; one full twist of my body and the chute is flying high. My hands are trembling from the adrenaline of a near death experience. I take a deep breath and assure myself that it’s all going to be okay.
All I could ask myself was, Why the hell would anyone CHOOSE to do this? … People jump out of planes to experience an adrenaline rush, yet I just had one of the most intense rushes I have ever had and it was NOT fun. Concurrently as my negative thoughts towards skydiving flew through my mind, the wind started picking up and throwing me like a rag doll. For some reason, I thought that just because I survived the free fall and the line twist, this meant I was home safe. Not even close. I still have to get to the ground and the wind is blowing like a hooker on Hollywood.
As a little girl, I would often amuse myself by taking my Raggedy Anne doll by her red pigtail braids and flinging her from side to side. Being strapped into this oversized, wind whisping parachute made me feel a deep empathy for poor Raggedy Anne.
My landing pattern begins. Confidence creeps in as I commence the slow downward motion of pulling my toggles towards the ground, flaring my breaks. Finally … I land with a face plant!
I am a frequent flyer, my One World membership is proof of that, but this was hands down the most traumatic experience I have ever had in the aviation sphere.
Arriving back at the main school building, awaiting my instructor to return and inform me of my failure; I wallow in my embarrassment and think to myself, Who is the one person who always helps my chin come up? Why, Richard Branson, of course! Although we are not yet personal friends, I like to think of Richard as a lifelong mentor. Apart from business, there are so many values I admire in the Bransonator, and unlike some people I won’t hold the whole owning his own island thing against him.
At that moment a higher power possessed me to google “Richard Branson Skydiving,” and to my everlasting amusement, a youtube video appeared.
Richard and his friend Per Lindstrom decided to cross the Atlantic Ocean on a hot air balloon. For this they needed to learn to skydive, incase there was a situation turned soggy. Some sweet soul decided to video tape Richard as he took his first two jumps … Suddenly, my life had meaning again.
For your personal amusement, I strongly recommend you watch said video.
Thanks to Richar’ss help, I overcame the initial frustration with my inability to keep my cool, then I had a realization: I made it to the ground without injury or death!
To the wind tunnel I gallop, if I was going to try and control my flight, what a better way to do that than practice in a safe environment? The wind tunnel allows me to get the sensation of free fall and trains my brain to register what is needed to not feel like a fish out of water.
The aim of the second level was to keep my body steady and fly forward while staying relaxed. Needless to say I failed my second level, yeah, failed miserably. But the wind tunnel allowed me to get the much needed practice of forward flight so that in my next jump, I will know what my body needs to do. This jump was a valuable lesson – I learned not to be concerned about how many times I fail the levels on this course, as long as I learn something new.
Most importantly, land safely.