Sunday, July 24, 2011

Jumping from a Plane!!!

Had written this article a long time back. Thought of sharing it on this blog....

Summer of 2008, Oulu, Finland
Heights have never been my strengths. Friends who really know me well can vouch for it. It’s not that I am afraid of heights, but kind of a phobia where in I get a tingling sensation in my legs when I look down from few feet above ground. And if I am standing on a rooftop and looking downwards, then I need something to hold on to, else, I’ll never go near the edge J
So here I was in Oulu during the winters and while exploring this new place, found out a skydiving school nearby. Upon enquiry, they told me there are two types of jumps:
1) Self jump, that needs a training of 7 hours and one can jump on his own from a height of 1 km’s above the ground. (3281 feet)
2) Tandem jump, needs just 30 min’s of training and one can jump along with the instructor, but from a height of 3.7km’s above the ground. (12139 feet)
That’s it. I just enquired and thought, let it be. Not something I should get involved in J
One fine summer day, few others who were working with me started planning for skydive and asked me if I would like to join in. They were just pulling my leg…….they knew my height disorders ;)
However, I agreed to their request. It later on so happened that the others where a little chickened out and I had to really convince them to go for it J. So out of so many of my friends, only 4 agreed to go for it.
Now the next question, Self jump or Tandem? I opted for a Tandem, simply because it was from a greater height. Well, it’s not that I was all brave to challenge myself. But the Tandem jump had a greater free fall time. Free fall as the term implies, is that part of a skydiving jump, where you just fall before opening the parachute. For Tandem jump it was 50 sec’s and for a Self jump it was 3 sec’s.
So I opted for 50 sec’s ;). I still don’t know why, but it was the best choice I made.
I made the bookings and visited the facility. The instructor was Petteri Korhonen, a Finnish local, who by profession is a Software Engineer, and does this as a hobby. He had done about 5000 jumps then. Wow! Could you believe that…… many jumps and he has still survived. Guess that made me feel more safe and put aside all the nonsense thoughts I had in my mind.
Then there was a brief training session that had me lying down on my tummy on a skateboard with arms and legs in air so I could balance my body against the aerodynamics during the jump. A little bit of theory about the parachute and how it needs to be handled.
Cool, so training was over and we headed for the jump site. I had a personal camera man too who would jump with me and record it. We got into the small Cessna plane, ready to take off. My final instruction given by the instructor was simple…..”Roland….don’t do anything silly. Just Jump!” J
As the plane gained altitude, I started to have a strange sensation in my tummy. The pilot and my instructor kept asking me how I felt. I just smiled like an idiot and said I am fine, enjoying the view. In reality……..I was not fine. I was nervous and scared. I just pretended like I was calm. Thought of asking them, “Well, can we take a U-turn and go back please, I don’t think I can do this”. But I didn’t. And thank God I didn’t
I closed my eyes for few moments and talked to myself “Come what may, I will jump. With total trust, let’s jump”. Then I started to enjoy the awesome view around. There was land and sea all around. Everything seemed so tiny. The skies were clear with few clouds around. From the window, I could see the vast horizon. All I could hear was the engine of the Cessna, like the starting of an induction motor from 3 idiots.”DDhhurrrrrrrrrrrrr…..”
It took us nearly 20 min’s to reach the height of 3.7 km’s. They opened the plane door. My instructor did a final round of checking that the parachute was correctly attached to him. He checked the four hooks with which I was attached to his body. Yes, that’s all that would hold me until we landed……..those four hooks.
The altitude gauge showed a reading of 3.7 km’s and a temp of -4 C.
I slowly moved to the open door, one baby step at a time. The wind was gushing at my face. It felt refreshing but the fear I had earlier, returned. The more I moved closer to the door, the more my mind started looking for reasons to not jump. My cameraman was already out holding on to one of the plane wing ready to shoot my jump. I managed to get to edge of the door with my one leg outside by now, hanging in air. I had to gently getup and standup with my instructor behind me and move outwards near the plane wing. That’s when I looked down upon the earth. Well it did look all gorgeous and beautiful, but it didn’t interest me then. My feet were shaking, my tummy was tingling. Slowly, taking support of the plane wall, I managed to reach the wing.
I was facing my Ultimate Fear! Then I heard a count “1……2……3……jump”
And………… can’t explain
We somersaulted and I could see the plane fly past away from us. And I was falling at speed of 220 km’s/hr.
And that was it. Fear had been kicked out. Then there was total ecstasy during the fall. It felt like ultimate freedom. Everything seized to exist in those moments of free fall. I couldn’t feel my body though I was breathing, my mind was clear, and the intellect wasn’t doing anything, felt like there was no memory of anything before the fall. All I could feel was that Moment.
Everything felt like it just vanished. No thoughts, just being with the fall. It was bliss!
While having a fall from that altitude, one has nothing to lose, nothing to hold on to. All I remember I had was happiness. Yes I was scared before I jumped, but a small push was indeed needed for this experience J
Then I heard one more count “1………2…….3……parachute”
And Whooosssshhhh……the parachute opened and pulled us upwards due to the air pocket it creates. That’s when I realized the beauty of the skydive………”You fall first, and later enjoy the view J
Everything around was serene and pure beauty. We guided our parachute to the nearby clouds, then moved swiftly over the nearby sea. I was still attached to my instructor with those four hooks J. We then made way to the landing area, and bump, we were on the ground. I looked up and thanked for this experience.

Summer 2010, New Jersey, USA
Again I got a chance to jump in New Jersey on 4th of July. This time from a height of 5.4 km’s (17717 feet) and free fall extended to 70 sec’s J.
It’s not that my height phobia has gone away and that I am not scared during skydiving. I still am. And every time fear is only the moment I stand at the open plane door. Once I jump, it all goes away and it is freedom. The experience is worthwhile. :)
Check out the video:
Skydive in Oulu
Attaching few pics.