October 19th, 2014

(relatively) recent

Parachute jump report

As I posted here before, I recently did a charity parachute jump in aid of the victims of the recent war in Israel and Gaza; here's my report on it.

I did my jump with the London Parachute School,* on the day after Yom Kippur—I wanted to see if I'd been forgiven my sins. (It was actually because aviva_m wanted to see me do it, and there were limited dates she was available.) I was lucky with the weather: the previous day and the following day it rained, but on this day it was warm with hazy sunshine.

* Which, despite the name, is about a third of the way between Reading and Oxford: you don't want to actually jump onto London; it's full of spiky things and cars which would run you over.

I was taken up in a Cessna with three other students: two of them tandem jumpers like me, each accompanied by an instructor to whom they'd be strapped and a cameraman who would jump along with them. The other student, who jumped first of all, was doing her second ever solo jump; she jumped with two experts who would instruct her on the way down by means of hand signals.

We climbed to 9000 feet (3km), then they opened the door. (From the ground, looking at those who had gone up before me, it's just possible to make out individual jumpers at that height as they exit the 'plane.) Fortunately, you don't spend long enough sitting in the doorway to get scared; you jump as soon as you're in position. (Actually, I didn't sit in the doorway at all; my instructor sat there and I hung outside the aeroplane altogether, hence the terrified rictus on my face in the video.)

I remembered Abigail Kay telling me the day beforehand about her experience at that moment: "I'm not doing it; I can't go through with it." "Yes you are: You don't have a choice; you're strapped to me!" What I failed to remember (because so many other people had told me other things) was my sister-in-law's father telling me that you do a somersault as you come out. As a result, the first few seconds were the most terrifying experience of my entire life: seeing the ground in front of me, then the 'plane, then the ground again, it felt like I was tumbling out of control.

Of course, I wasn't, and once I was in a stable skydiving posture, it was actually quite enjoyable. The instructor had told me to hold onto my shoulder straps until he gave me the signal, then leave go and wave at the cameraman, but holding my straps gave me a (false, natch) sense of security, and he pretty much had to pry my hands loose!

We had thirty seconds of freefall, taking us down from 9000 to 4000 feet, though if you look closely at the video, you'll see we have a drogue 'chute open almost from the start, slowing down our terminal velocity a little. Then the (main) 'chute opened, the wind noise went away, and I could have conversation with my instructor. The cameraman, however, kept freefalling a while longer, so he could be on the ground in time to capture my landing.

At that point, the instructor started doing manoeuvres to make sure we landed in the right place, and every time he did so I got motion sick. They had in fact told us they would do "spiralling", and said we could ask them to keep it to a minimum if we suffered, but I thought it's part of the experience, and I can put up with it for a short while. Hah. By the time I landed I was sick as a parrot, and spent two and a half hours afterwards just waiting to feel well enough to drive again. Everyone else who had jumped before me had come off the airfield going "That was amazing"; I came off it going "urrrggghhh!" (If you look at the swaying back and forth I'm doing on the video just before I land, you'll understand why.)

And so, to landing. I had read on the Net of a Million Lies that landing after a parachute jump was like jumping off a four-foot wall. In fact, with the large 'chute used for tandem jumps, it was considerably more gentle than that. And I didn't land on the ground at all, as if I stopped my instructor would run straight into me: As instructed, I merely lifted my feet up and let him touch down.

Despite the motion sickness, I'm glad I did the jump. I wanted something to liven my life up, and I certainly got it: I'm not going to forget that in a hurry! And, if I had a way of countering the motion sickness, I'd even do it again (though it's rather expensive a hobby).

Anyhow, as a reward for all those who sponsored me,* here's the video of my jump:

* I set myself a target of raising £1000 for Magen David Adom and B'Tselem. At the time of writing, I've raised exactly that on-site, excluding Gift Aid, but there have also been somewhere in excess of £120 donated off-site directly to Magen David Adom by people who refused to support B'Tselem (which is an issue for another post).

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