March 30, 2003
I made a complete skydive today, blindfolded !!
Bored skydivers on a weather hold ......... Those words hold as much promise as "No shit, there I was. Thought I was gonna die ........"
Yesterday, waiting for blue sky that never came, Tom, one of our best instructors was relating how bringing in a student on the radio was just like flying himself in and that the student may as well be blind. One thing led to another and here I am today, making a skydive blindfolded.
I want to stress that this wasn't done purely on a whim. There was much thought and planning put into the execution of the jump. For me, skydiving is taking something that is inherently unsafe and making it safe as possible.
I took a pair of goggles and completely covered them with electrical tape. I was not able to see anything with them on. The instructor and I talked at length about the jump and all of the possibilities. The number one consideration was that I could bail at any point in time simply by pulling down the opaque goggles and carry on with a normal skydive. All of the possible "what ifs" were discussed and it was determined that the jump was doable and survivable.
I jumped from 5,000' wearing a student Manta. I picked the altitude because that would give me plenty of time in case something went wrong on the hop-n-pop. It also allowed Tom to see me from exit to the ground. I wanted the Manta because the really "iffy" part of things was going to be the landing (Duh !) and that would probably give me my best range of acceptable landings.
I spotted the C182 and then donned my special goggles and helmet. I asked the pilot for the door and he (I later found out) nodded yes. I asked him again and this time he answered me. I checked with the guy who was "jumpmastering" me. He thought the spot was a tad long but otherwise OK. I was set to go.
I dived out and had no problem getting stable. I took about a 3 second delay and then reached for ripcord. I consciously did not do this automatically, I wanted to make sure that I grabbed the ripcord and not try to find a hackey that wasn't there. No problem. The canopy opened and I quickly stuffed the ripcord away.
One of the steps I thought might be a problem was finding the toggles. After I was pretty sure that I was under a functioning canopy, I slid my hands up the risers and found the toggles. I'm still jumping my winter gloves but didn't have any trouble getting my hands in the toggles.
Right about then, the radio crackled to life and Tom started to talk to me. We did plenty of turns and practice flares and determined that the canopy was performing as desired. Because I had pulled so high, there was plenty of altitude to play. Tom was diligent about keeping me informed about where I was and at what altitude I was except the one time he told me I was "over the trees". We jump in Wisconsin! There's trees all over the place! It was more funny than a problem because he had to know where I was, I didn't.
I "felt" that we were close to the ground as he set me up for final. The moment of truth was close at hand. Tom gave me the "wait......... wait ........ wait .............. FLARE !!" command and I did. It came faster than I had anticipated. My flare was a little weak and I hit the ground before I was through flaring. I didn't see it coming so my body was relaxed. As soon as my heels impacted, I did my version of a PLF and I was down. I ended up sitting on my butt and was not hurt in the least !!
YEEEEEEEEEEEEEE HAAAAAAAAAAAAAA !!!
I couldn't get up fast enough and so I sat there giving Tom the thumbs-up and started yelling, "I'm all right ! I'm all right !". It was a flashback to my student days, except I was blind yet. I got up and was elated! I felt like it was my first jump all over again. I survived !! I'm still walking a couple feet off the ground.
This is an example of yet another great aspect of our sport - TRUST. How many times on each jump day do we trust our very lives to another. Yes, this was an extreme example, a little more than the "fall backward and I'll catch you" thingy. All the same, I love this sport, it is the greatest in the world!
Thanks to Tom, and Mark, and the unnamed pilot. I couldn't have done it without you. (Boy, that would rate right up there on the Darwin scale, trying it without them! )
I am not naive enough to think that I am the first to have done this. I would be interested in hearing from others that have.