The Ultimate Kick
On Saturday October 21, 2000, I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane for the first time in my life. Thanks to my buddyjumper I even returned to earth unscathed.
Together with my sister Ursula I had to report at 13.30 hours in the clubhouse of Paracentre Skydive Rotterdam at the Zaventembaan 5 (appropriately dubbed the "Flying Dutchmanstreet") on the terrain of Rotterdam Airport. After we registered, paid and signed a document stating that we were in our right mind when we decided to make a tandemjump (which in my opinion is a contradiction in terms, but anyway), we had to wait a while before the preparations would commence.
After half an hour we were announced over the tannoy as Mr. and Mrs. Wirtz, which gave me a slightly uncomfortable feeling. Although, if you look at it strictly technical then it's correct, but still ... We were both assigned to a buddy (the buddyjumper) and a vidiot (the jumper with the camcorder on his helmet who would follow our every move): mine were named Koos and René. Koos was a little smaller and lighter and younger than me, which did not frighten me. What did though was the outfit I had to squirm myself in: tight, white overalls. Not very flattering I might add ;-)
When I finally stood up, uncomfortably rigid in my overalls, Koos explained The Four Rules which I was going to obey:
The plane proved to be smaller than expected and even so 11 people would fit in there, including the pilot. We practiced our course from the bench to the doorway. When I was pushed into place I rested my feet on the footboard just underneath the doorway. Wrong! If we would be in the air Koos would hook himself up to me with four carbines and the objective would be that I would dangle outside of the plane hanging from his harness. What a lovely prospect.
The next step would be The Four Rules. I didn't have to worry about the take-off. I would notice that by a forward movement, a backward movement and at the next forward movement we would take to the air. This should happen between steps 3 and 4 of the aforementioned rules. Koos told me that we would jump at 12,000 feet, that the freefall would last between 40 and 45 seconds, that the freefall would take place with the unlawful speed of 200 kilometres per hour and that the paraglide time would approximately be 5 minutes. What about the landing? you might think now. Well, that was something Koos would explain while hanging under the parachute. That sounded promising.
After this explanation I had to wait till the plane returned from a previous flight. During that time I could watch how Ursula was instructed by her buddy. It was also fun to see our other tandemjumper, who was here on account of his bachelor party (must be nice, having friends like that), being photographed by his wife-to-be: the before photo ... Indeed, it's all about trust.
Half an hour later it was announced that we were to be taken to the airport. (For the first time I felt some excitement. Up till now I didn't feel scared at all, something I counted on a little, because I am quite afraid of heights.) With ten people jammed into a van we drove to the artists' entrance of Rotterdam Airport. By feet we walked the small stretch to the pickup spot of the aircab. Some famous (last) words were spoken and after not too long our plane came taxiing toward us. After everybody got on board we did a nice impression of sardines in a tin.
This would only be the case for a short while, because after like 20 minutes we would be four kilometres above the drop zone. I had expected that the take off would be more difficult than it actually was and halfway our flight Koos gave me goggles, which I hung around my neck. After that I sat on his lap and he buckled himself onto me: two become one. On the way there was a discussion if we would jump at all, because the plane just came back from a location at the Europoort where it was not possible to jump due to heavy clouding. Luckily the clouds were not that heavy at our drop zone, above Rhoon. In other words, there were enough holes in the clouds to keep ones sense of direction. We were going to jump.
Even after this verdict I didn't become nervous or scared. Shortly after this the go-signal was given and I put on my goggles and the door was slid open, what resulted in lots of noise and, yes, wind. The first to go was the still-bachelor and meanwhile Koos and I moved into the direction of the door: we were up next. Koos asked me if I remembered The Four Rules. I gave him a thumbs up and I felt courageous. In the corner of my eye I saw René the Vidiot climb out of the aircraft and mere moments later I dangled outside and turned preach into practice.
Before I even noticed I felt us let go of the ariplane. Because at that time I couldn't maintain Rule #1 we somersaulted, but Koos quickly re-established the normal flight pattern. After opening the brake-chute he tapped twice on my shoulder, which meant that I could spread my arms with my hands close to my ears. The sound of the wind was almost deafening and I could feel the speed with which we plummeted to the ground. I saw René falling towards us swiftly and Koos and I waved at the camera and I even put out my tongue. (Later I could see on video that the scalp is only loosely wrapped around the skull, which is funny to see.)
Because of the clouds I could not see the ground and when we approached a cloud with high speed Koos tapped me on the shoulder again and I crossed my arms in front of my chest. After we fell through the cloud Koos opened the parachute and we were abruptly slowed down from our freefall. That this really didn't happen gently was proved later, when my groin muscles felt like raw meat. Now I had a good look at the earth beneath, most of which turned out to be water: the Old Maas river and the water reservoir of Rhoon. Was this going to be a wet landing? Or did we head straight for the golfcourse of Rhoon?
The drop zone was in fact right behind us and after Koos showed it to me he asked if I could stand on his feet, so he could unhook the bottom two carbines. After that I had to pull up my knees and keep them pulled up. We could talk, because since we were floating the noise of the wind had stopped, and he told me that we were going to make an ass landing and the only thing that I would have to do was to keep my knees pulled up. He would take care of the rest. Sounded like a plan to me. It would take a couple of minutes before we would reach the ground, so I had a little time to look around. At this point I realized that I never at any time felt anxiety; just the kick of the freefall.
In the meantime Koos steered us in the direction of the circular drop zone in a meadow owned by Farmer Bert. Once I was close enough I saw that the drop zone consisted of pebblestones and a light panic took possession of me when I noticed the speed with which we were heading for it. Not only would my groin muscles feel like raw meat, but my behind would most certainly look like raw meat. Nothing could be farther from the truth when we made the stop in the gravel pit! Immediately Koos unhooked me and I could stand up and look back to our jump in satisfaction. Koos and René congratulated me on the jump and after that I was able to watch how my sister, who jumped after me, touched down close to us.
Everybody congratulated everybody with their successful jumps and at the same time the buddyjumpers groped the parachutes and carried them into a Volkswagen Transporter which was waiting for us. We also stepped into the van to be taken back to the clubhouse. There we had to wait until the video captions were copied onto a video tape. To keep the athmosphere going I ordered a round of drinks for all those people involved with our flight. Also, either one of us received a certificate in honor of our maiden jump. I thanked Koos and René for their supervision and armed with our videos Ursula and I could work our way through our circles of friends.
In retrospect it becomes clear that the actual jump is not to be feared at all. There simply is not enough time to get scared and to back out in the doorway you will have to be pretty damn fast. From this you can tell that the buddyjumpers really know what they do: 600 to 800 jumps per year is quite normal for these guys. Moreover, the important work is done before the jump on the ground: the folding of the parachute. In fact, you yourself are the biggest risk of failure if you don't follow the procedures your buddy tells you. In short, tandemjumps are suitable for everyone!
As a matter of course I would like to advertize the men and women of Skydive Rotterdam, who run a perfectly streamlined organization. For more information call (0031)(0)10-4159450 or take a look around the website of The Flying Dutchmen and dare to jump! If you need more convincing, take a look at Diving Down to Earth.
© René Wirtz 2000, 2001