September 25, 2021
i have told this story before.
My writers group encouraged me to rewrite the story as a memoir (a slice of personal history). They suggested that i write it in first person with terminology that non skydivers will understand.
i invite you to come along for the ride.
The Day I Died
I convinced Sally to become a skydiver.
She has made about 300 jumps. I have made 5000.
Today I asked her to make a skydive with me.
Normally, skydivers practice on the ground what they plan to do in free fall. It is called dirt diving.
I decide to plan a follow-the-leader skydive.
The plan is that I will perform a maneuver in free fall and she will mimic it.
Then it will be her turn and I will copy her.
No dirt dive is necessary. It is a spontaneous skydive.
I manifest us on the next airplane.
We meet in the loading area all geared up.
I give Sally a gear check.
“Three ring releases correct. Buckles routed and secure. Cutaway handle and reserve handle good. Pilot chute stowed and handle visible. Both pins seated.”
“Did you turn on your automatic opener?”
“Yes,” she said.
“You’re good to go Sally.”
The flight to altitude is always exciting.
We board a turbine twin Otter airplane.
Seat belts secure. Door closed for takeoff. There is a roar of the engines and a dash down the runway. Wheels up and we are flying…
The ground rushes away as we climb toward the clouds.
At 12,500 feet above the ground we are on jump run.
The red light comes on and someone opens the airplane door.
Cool air rushes in.
The skydivers nearest the door lean out, looking down to spot our location.
They assure that no other aircraft are below us.
The light turns green.
EXIT. EXIT. EXIT.
The first group runs out of the plane.
Sally and I are next.
I look out the door and down.
The ground is a picture of what the ground should be.
It is a pattern of brown and green and there is a slight curve to the Earth.
I climb out of the door holding on to a hang rail, my body clinging to the outside of the plane.
I look into Sally’s eyes and take a deep breath.
“READY. SET. GO.”
We exit the plane.
I am in freefall.
Sally flies up to me and hovers face to face.
I grasp both her wrists.
We smile at each other.
I let go.
We are hovering in midair. The wind blows up and past us at 120 miles an hour, but we are weightless.
I begin the follow-the-leader kicking my knees up into a back loop.
When I come out of the back loop Sally is nowhere to be seen.
As I begin a slow turn, scanning the sky there is a painful impact on my back.
Sally had begun her back loop shortly after mine and was unable to stop it. She came down knees first between my shoulders.
We both spin wildly away from each other.
I find myself alone in free fall, a little dazed.
“This is not right,” I say to myself.
I try to bend a leg to turn my body and scan the sky for Sally.
My legs will not move.
I reach for my main parachute rip cord.
My arm will not move.
I am paralyzed from my shoulders down.
I turn my head to my wrist altimeter.
Every attempt to move my arms or legs fails.
I am not going to be able to open my main parachute or my reserve parachute.
Time to deploy.
“I am really glad I have an Cypres automatic activation device,” i think.
My next thought is, “Did I turn it on this morning?”
I cannot remember if I had.
An unexpected calm comes over me.
“Either I turned on my Cypres, or I am already dead.”
Because I cannot move my arms or legs I cannot keep my body trim in free fall.
My body enters an angular flat spin.
I see ground, sky, ground, sky, ground sky.
Then there is a flash of white past my face.
My reserve parachute has opened.
Because of my spin, the steering lines are in line twists from the steering toggles to the parachute.
I think, “I should kick these twists out,” but my legs still do not move.
“I need to pull down the steering toggles to flair into a safe landing,” but my arms are still paralyzed.
My forward motion is about 20 miles per hour. This landing is not going to be pretty.
A telephone line sweeps past and my parachute snags on the line.
This stops my forward motion and dangles me from the line.
2 seconds. 3 seconds.
The parachute slips off the telephone line dropping me about 5 feet.
I land flat on my back on my still packed main parachute.
I land in between a spiked fence and the asphalt street in a dirt meridian.
My white reserve parachute floats down over my face like a cloud covering the sky.
“Heaven,” I think, with a smile.
Then I hear voices. Spectators from the apartments where I landed are asking how I am.
I reach up and push the parachute off my face. I can move my arms!
I wiggle my toes.
I stand up.
The landing must have readjusted my spine.
Just then a pickup truck comes screaming down the road and the driver squeals to a stop.
He says, “I never saw someone open that low in my life!”
I say, “Neither have I.”
“What can I do for you?”
“I could use a ride back to the Drop Zone.”
So I climb into the truck, the driver calls ahead and we go to Perris skydiving center.
When I arrive at the parking lot I see Sally standing across the lot.
Like a scene in a romance movie, we run toward each other and into each other’s arms.
“I thought I killed you,” Sally sobs.
“I thought I was dead,” said I.