The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across the keyboard.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Free Falling - Rebecca Jumped Out of a Plane and Lived to Tell Us About It!


Fiona - Today we are visiting with Rebecca.
            We met at WPA
            2013 - awesome by the way - how would
            describe yourself to my readers?

Rebecca - The WPA was amazing this year, wasn't it? It was
             my second time attending, and I'm really looking
             forward to next year's already. I'm a research
            administrator at the local medical university with a focus
            on obtaining and managing federally-funded biomedical
            grants for research faculty... in my spare time I read
            and write mysteries (preferably whodunits and medical

Fiona - You recently had a major adventure. What possessed
            you to want to jump out of a plane? I mean seriously
            that's stuff of my night mares.

Rebecca - Besides a mid-life crisis? I've been toying with the idea for years, and just decided
                the time was right.

Fiona - And there was a Groupon... LOL! I'm actually a little afraid of heights -- don't like being up in high
            buildings and panic at the thought of standing on cliffs.

Deutsch: Glasbalkon Skydeck Sears-Tower, Chicago
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Rebecca - This past summer I took my seven-year-old
                 daughter to Chicago, and we made the
                 obligatory visit to the SkyDeck observatory
                 in what used to be called the Sears tower.
                 It's on the 103rd floor, and there are glass
                 boxes that extend outward so that you can
                 stand outside the building and be completely
                 surrounded by the view. It was phenomenal.
                 And terrifying.

                 So, what better challenge next, than jumping out
                 of a plane? I mean, why not? Link to Skydeck

Simulated Sky Diving
 (Photo credit: highlander411)
This seems like a viable alternative, maybe.

Fiona - (Hmmm. The list of reasons is running like a ticker tape across the bottom of my thoughts.)
             Why not ideed! That's the stuff, girl-friend! So off you went with a buddy who had experience
             jumping. Maybe she won a bet you're not willing to tell us about.

Rebecca - Nope! It was her first time too. She'll love that you thought she'd done it before.
                 She balanced my panic well.

Fiona - With her own?
Rebecca and Chrissie

Rebecca - It was fun though -- as we went higher,
                 I calmed down, and she got more

Fiona - Yes, that does sound fun! So what was
            the pre-jump process. You had to sign
            away your life right?

Rebecca - Oh my goodness. Yes. At least eight
                 pages of signing my life away; my
                 rights, those of my daughter, heirs,
                estate -- you name it. I jump, life
                insurance out the window, and I would
                have to pay $ for their legal fees.

Fiona - Wow!

Rebecca - We actually were supposed to jump a couple weeks earlier but it was too cloudy. So I had a
                 while to think over the first contract before signing it all over again a second time.

Fiona - I remember that. We were all crossing our fingers for you. (...and thinking that Providence was
            offering you an opportunity to re-think your decision making process.) And after you put your Jane
            Hancock on the line, certainly they gave you some clothing parameters and training.

Rebecca - None! Other than a reminder that it's approx 20 degrees colder when you're 10,000 feet up
                 (2mi) than on the ground. Otherwise, street clothes was the rule.

Rather unconvincing Maralyn Monroe waxwork
Rather unconvincing Maralyn Monroe waxwork (Photo credit: Ben Sutherland)

Fiona - So if you wanted to jump with your Marilyn Monroe
            dress and stilettos, they would have been cool
            with that? Huh. I bet the people below would beg to

Rebecca - That may've been a bit much. My friend came
                 straight from the clinic in her skirt and heels, and they
                 made sure she changed to jeans first. Can you
                 imagine getting hit in the head with a stiletto heel
                 that fell from two miles up?? Training? Not a thing.
Scott and Rebecca

                 My instructor laid out a torso harness for me to step
                 into, and he tightened it down 80% of the way. He
                 pointed out the metal platform over the plane's wheel
                 that I was to plant my feet onto when positioning to
                 jump, and that was it.

Fiona - So they introduced you to some guy, said,"We're going
            to strap you to him." And that was basically it? Seems
            pretty intimate. You'd think he would invite you out for a
            drink first.

Rebecca - When I asked about landing, Scott -- my instructor --
                 told me he wanted to hold off on that until we'd
                 deployed the canopy first so I would focus on the

Fiona - Now in your video, he had a helmet and you didn't. Did that make you nervous?
             BTW, I think it was so if you vomited, it wouldn't get in his eyes.

Rebecca - I was wondering where my helmet was until he ushered us on the plane!!
                No helmet. No jumpsuit. Just a pair of safety goggles.
                I was really paranoid about losing control of key body functions during the free fall. Thank
                goodness everything crystallized for me as reality set in, and I jumped.

Fiona -So you decided to tandem jump with some cute guy. They asked in the film about your feelings, but
           you were in the middle of things. So I'm going to ask now that you've had some time to reflect what
           were you experiencing physically and emotionally as you got on the plane?

Rebecca - Other than panic about standing 10k feet up on a narrow metal strip under the wing, you mean?
                 Other than worrying about the life I'd just relinquished rights to?

Fiona - Ha! Let's pretend that a writer is working on a scene where her heroine is in the position
            where she has to jump out of a plane for the very first time with no instructions. (For a worthy cause
            like saving her kids or the world at large - yeah, I'd jump for my kids... maybe my husband... Oh, hi
            honey -- didn't see you there, reading over my shoulder. I mean ABSOLUTELY for my husband,
            and/or the preservation of humanity, but that's about it.)
            Let's try to move through the experience so they can write it right.

Rebecca - Adrenaline started pouring through me the moment Scott slid the harness up my legs and cinched
                 it around my hips. He flipped the camera in my face, and my mind went blank but for thoughts of
                defective parachutes.

                The pilot was held up verifying his flight plans, which left me to think about the darn chute

                My friend and her instructor hopped in the plane first -- a tiny shell with a single glass door -- and
                Scott pulled me aside to show me where to plant my feet. He then pointed out the four straps on
                my harness he was going to clip to the front of his, just before leaping.

                He hopped in just behind me, and a fifth instructor slid in last and slid the door down behind us.
                By the time we started taxiing down the runway, my pulse was humming in time with the engine,
                and it was all I could do to keep from grabbing Scott's hands for balance.

Fiona - For balance... Sure, okay.

Rebecca - Hush. This is my story. So, we took off and the ground disappeared -- in the video Scott
                 captured our plane's shadow shrinking and it hit me then that I was literally entrusting my life to
                 this man.

                 Scott leaned forward as he gave us further instructions -- most of which I may or may not've
                 remembered after two seconds -- and I spied the Save our Troops patch on his jumpsuit's right
                 breast. Hmm.
                 "How many jumps have you done?"
                 "My fifth today," he replied.
                 "Total, I mean." Dork.
                 "Thirty-four hundred."

                  To distract myself, I started prying into his personal life, and it was a huge relief to learn he'd
                  been in the Army for a couple of tours before getting out.

Fiona - So you were asking all of those personal questions as a coping mechanism?I think I might have pried
            a little earlier -- could I see his mental health records? Would he pee on this strip for a quick drug
            test? You know - the usual.

Rebecca - Ha!  As an aside, the fifth man who slid in behind me jumped at 5,000 feet. He was testing a new
                 parachute folding method... The pilot yelled when we reached 5,000 feet, Scott grabbed my
                 shoulder and pulled me toward him before raising the glass door.

                 When the wind poured in I realized that I wasn't strapped to a single thing in that airplane.
                  I scrambled around and settled on a red hand-strap on the left shoulder of Scott's harness. He
                  looked down at my hand, looked straight into my eyes, and wagged his finger in no uncertain
                  terms. Yeah. So I leaped into Chrissie's lap and watched Mr. Hunky-dude kick out the open

Fiona - Why didn't Scott let you hold onto the red handle?

Rebecca - By the time Scott lowered the glass door, and I could hear again, I'd gotten my heart under
                 control and asked what the red thing was. Apparently it was our reserve parachute -- if I'd pulled
                 any harder it would've deployed in the cabin. "It would quickly become a very bad day."

Fiona - Shoot, girl. Remind me not to jump out of any planes with you. Oh wait... that would never be a

Rebecca - We circled on up through the crystal clear sky, the only indication of our height being the digital
                 altimeter on his left wrist and the shrinking grid of country roads waaaaay below.

                 But it was funny -- the higher we went, the calmer I got.

Fiona - The drugs kicked in? Or lack of oxygen to your brain cells?

Rebecca - No drugs!! Though many folks back on Earth were wondering what I'd taken before signing up
                for this!

                I understand that at 10k feet and higher, oxygen to the brain is severely limited and if we'd stayed
                much longer than we did we'd have needed some O2. Luckily I didn't know that at the time.

                Instead, at about 9k Scott grabbed my shoulders and leaned into my ear. "Time," he shouted.
                "Turn around, feet in front of you, and scoot back onto my lap."

                He knelt next to the glass door, and waiting patiently for me to twist around and sit on his lap.

Fiona - I'm sure.

Rebecca - Let me reiterate here: I trusted him completely. I had to!

Fiona - And then...

Rebecca - I'll gloss over the specifics.

Fiona - Girl!

Rebecca - It all happened so fast! One minute I was perched on his knees, and the next minute my shoulders
                 were pressed against his and my hips were strapped down to his.

                 He spent the last thousand feet tightening the four straps until my chest was compressed, and I
                 couldn't get a full breath.

                 Then, he leaned forward over my left shoulder. I thought he was getting ready to extend some
                 vital piece of information that would make the difference between life and death, and I turned my
                 cheek to his. To hear better. You know?

Fiona - Mmmhmmmn.

Rebecca - The pilot twisted and leaned down. "We gotta get Hunky-dude (name changed for privacy) to the
                 nearest hospital."

                 Yeah. Hunky-dude was the jumper at 5k.

                  So there I was, strapped and ready to jump and the mention of HOSPITAL was just tossed out
                  there. :sigh:

                  Scott nodded, looked down at me, and asked, "Ready to do this, girl?"

                  Thumbs up. PleaseGodletmeliveandnotbreakanybones. Pleaseletmekeepmyeyesopen.
                  Pleasekeepmybladderundercontrol. Pleasedontletmymotherhearmeswear.

                  The door went up. I scooted off Scott's lap and to the front of the open door. Forty-six knot
                  winds pulled my feet out and to the right. It was all I could do to pull them to the metal strip
                  where I was supposed to plant them. I held onto both sides of the door with a death grip, and it
                  took a while to realize Scott was prying the fingers on my right hand from the open door frame.
                 One of the three key pieces of instruction I'd been given was to cross my arms and hang onto my
                 shoulder straps until he tapped my shoulder. I imagined it was so I would land with both arms
                 attached to my body.

                   You can actually see him prying in the video.

                   I saw Chrissie behind him, a look of terror (or glee, perhaps?) on her face, and she gave me a
                   thumbs up. And then Scott shoved.

Fiona - Surely glee.

Rebecca - She denies it.

Fiona - And then you were flying like a bird

Rebecca - It was phenomenal. There was no sense of dropping. No acceleration. Just floating.

Fiona - That's surprising!

Rebecca - That was the most impressive thing about the experience, for me. I was shocked at how calm I
                 was by the time we were ready. It may have had something do with knowing the man attached to
                 me was more experienced than most. But the freedom I felt was overwhelming.

Fiona - What happens to your body when the parachute is deployed?

Rebecca - Free fall lasted probably 40 seconds or so. I expected my gut to feel like when you drop on a
                 roller coaster, but I don't remember anything like that. Just smooth. Floating.

                 Then there was a slight tug before our bodies were lifted upward by the shoulders when the chute
                 opened overhead. My legs flew down and then kicked forward, just like when bungee jumpers
                 hit the bottom before bouncing back up,

                And no, I've never bungee jumped. I'm not crazy.

Fiona - Debatable. Okay, so is there a difference in the sensation of free falling and being supported by the

Rebecca - It's like going from driving 75mph on the interstate for an hour, to exiting onto a country road at
                 night and rolling down the windows to hear the crickets.

 (Photo credit: o0bsessed)
                There is sudden silence and peace.

Fiona - Neat analogy

Rebecca -My ears were ringing after the rushing wind of the                      free  fall, but once I had a moment to catch my breath
               I could look around and appreciate the curving
               horizon.The brown and green palette manymanymany
               feet below. The tiny airport strip to the east.

               The sound of the chute flapping overhead.

               The harness was so tight by that point that I was afraid my ribs would bruise. I actually grabbed
               the strap across my chest to see if it would loosen a bit. I may've regretted that...

Fiona - So eventually the Earth gets closer, things come into focus, tell me about the last stage of coming in
            and landing.

Rebecca - Scott guided us in circles and figure-eights around the airport (awfully fun!!!), and at some point
                 he disconnected our hips.

Fiona - Did he now?

Rebecca - Silly Fiona. How else was I to get my legs up high enough for the finale?

Fiona - Pray tell...

Rebecca - Which was landing, of course.

                 We aimed for the grassy side of the airstrip, and about fifty feet up, he
                  told me to lift my legs at the hips -- as high as I could -- and keep them there
                  until he told me to lower them.

                 Up they went, and down we went. I was visualizing him running in mid air -- like in the cartoons,
                 perhaps -- but we came down smoothly on our rear ends like down a playground slide.

                 Maybe like a baseball player sliding feet first into home base.

                 Yeah -- that's a better analogy.

Fiona - Agreed. So Scott made a home run

Rebecca - Yes ma'am. Number 3,401.

Fiona - Wow hard to put all of those notches in one belt.

Rebecca - I'm sure he had many harnesses over the years.

Fiona - And you didn't regret it in the morning! You go girl!

Rebecca - Not at all. The actual jump was amazing, and I doubt that will be my last time. The most
                 frightening part was the anticipation. And the contract.

Fiona - You know, Anastasia Steele said the same thing.

Rebecca - And she is...?

Fiona - Sadly, that was an allusion to Fifty Shades of Grey

Rebecca - I've not had the pleasure of reading that...

Fiona - Lucky girl. You left off with all is well - you're rolling around in the grass with Scott

Rebecca - There was no rolling involved!

Fiona - Girl friend, you didn't pull your signature move? How did the story end?

Rebecca - Who've you been talking to?!

                Okay. So it was a clean landing -- I mentioned that, right? Scott unclipped, and I hopped up, and
                that was it! I couldn't sit still for quite some while, and helped my friend a little ways behind us
                when their parachute draped over them upon landing.

                Scott went to check on Hunky-dude, who had landed at the far end of the tarmac and was laying
                there while another staff member cut off his shoes and jumpsuit leg.  cold dose of reality, for sure.

                My friend -- who happens to be a clinician at our medical university -- offered to help, but
                Hunky-dude was on the hunt for a cigarette and a bottle of Jack Daniels.

Fiona - Nice

Rebecca - It turned out it was a nasty sprain and badly bruised ego, according to Scott the next day. Thank

Fiona - Yes! I've been worried about him since you mentioned the pilot.

Rebecca - He'd come in too fast after doing a 360degree turn about 50 feet up, and apparently blacked out
                when he hit hard.

Fiona - Yikes! Well Rebecca this has been an awesome time! Thank you so much for sharing your story
            with us. Will you promise to come back and tell us all about your next death-defying adventure?

Rebecca - Absolutely. Once my mother has had some time to recover from this one.

Fiona - Tell Hunky-dude to share his Jack Daniels with her, and she'll be fine.

If you have any questions, Rebecca and I will try to get them answered for you.
This is a link to South Carolina Skydiving where Rebecca had her adventure
And in case you're interested in testing your ability to withstand terror here is the Groupon link

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  1. I didn't know how expensive skydiving was until I looked it up after reading this. I've always wanted to do it.

    Isn't there a trick to landing to avoid injury? I know it's not just a soft gentle landing.

    1. Hey, Randall - I'm getting Rebecca to answer this; she'll chime in below.

  2. The cost was one of the major reasons I waited so long to jump. I'd seen the Groupon once or twice before, though, and finally decided to take the leap (haHA!). I tell ya, the next time one comes around at that price I'll pick up a couple more. I've noticed discounts around Christmas and college graduation, too, so you may want to proactively search around those times for good deals.

    As far as the landing goes, because it was tandem the instructor did all the work. I'm sure sliding into home plate on the seat of your pants isn't the only way to do it, but it sure simplified matters for me. I'll ask Scott K. about alternate landing techniques and get back to you -- or better yet ask him to chime in directly!

  3. Fun interview! Had me laughing when I wasn't gasping. Nonetheless, it would take more than a Groupon to get me to jump out of a plane--maybe a Group of zombies. Hats off to you, Rebecca!

    1. Thanks Linda! It really was amazing. I'll check back with you the next time I go -- maybe a little peer pressure will help to push you through that door. ;)

  4. A lot I never even thought about involved in jumping, but you won't get me to try this anyway. I can see this being used. Thanks for posting this.
    Jim Dufresne