It was my birthday, my mom had agreed to try her first skydive, it was beautiful and warm out – I was pretty freaking pumped.
My mom would be doing a tandem with the instructor who taught me to skydive. Coincidentally, he is also the instructor I desperately do not want to disappoint. At the time I had just over 100 jumps and he offered to let me jump with my first tandem. I would follow them out of the plane and hang out during the skydive.
There are lots of reasons why this is difficult for a newer skydiver, but the main ones are: tandems fall slow because of the drogue, it is really bad to hit the drogue and general safety around tandem skydiving. It takes some time to be allowed to skydive with a tandem.
While my mom was gearing up, the instructor said, “well aren’t you jumping with us to?” Insert me reverting to a child, “Really? Me? I can come to?”
I hustled off to put on my jumpsuit and my friend, who was also my mom’s videographer on this jump, told me to wear a baggy jumpsuit to slow to the tandem’s speed (the drogue makes tandems fall slow). On went my old purple RW jumpsuit that I really dislike (but hey I picked it up for $60 online). As I pulled it on, I realized I WOULD BE JUMPING with my first tandem.
My friend reminded me to deploy high and NOT track too far, as tandems are the last out of the plane (meaning farther from the dropzone). We geared up and I receive a last reminder to stay the f*** away from the drogue.
In the plane, I was nearly as excited as my mom. The door opened to blinding sunshine and blue skies. My mom’s tandem and my friend moved towards the door. I jumped last to stay a safe distance on exit.
I dived out and caught up quickly. I flew over and managed to stay on level for most of the skydive! We reached the tandems deployment altitude and off they went under canopy. Success!
I started tracking, as I patted myself on the back for not screwing up the skydive. I continue to track, as we were still high…see the problem here? In a whoosh, I was under canopy and looking at a pair of windmills. In hindsight I was quiet high above, but at the time it was disconcerting.
I pull on my rear risers to try and hold some altitude, while watching my mom’s tandem fly to the dropzone. I see my friend/videographer working to get back; at least I was not the only one far away. After about 30 seconds, I realized there was no point in trying with a forest to cross — a potential hazard if I didn’t make it back. I scanned the fields below and elected to land in plowed field to my right. It looked like the flattest and safest landing area.
A glance forward showed my mom’s tandem hanging in the air above the dropzone. It appeared that they were watching me land. My friend was just landing – she didn’t track so far away.
I turned into the wind and prepared to land on the unfamiliar ground. My landing was a soft stand up with only a farmer to see. I gathered up my parachute and looked for a way out. There was a dirt path in front of me, so I jumped a ditch and headed that way. I waved towards the farmer as an apology for my uninvited arrival. He was unfazed and went about his work – apparently a side effect of living near a dropzone.
In my mind this was the most logical route, but the walk down the dirt path towards the house was REALLY long. I was in my huge ugly purple jumpsuit lugging a parachute.
It also happened to be one of the hottest days of the year. And I didn’t take a cellphone, so I couldn’t call the dropzone. As I trudged along I was wishing for my last off-landing the winter before – who knew I would be missing winter jumping!
I was sure someone from the dropzone would turn up once I was near the road. To my dismay after a few minutes of sweating at the side of the road I had not seen anyone, so I decided to start walking in the right direction. A local stopped and asked if I need a ride back to the dropzone. YES!!
She looked nice, like she probably would not kill me, so in I jumped in with all my gear. And there was air conditioning!
I told her all about my mom’s first skydive. I said thank you and off she went. My mom was waiting, fairly unconcerned as they had seen me land and excited to tell me about the experience. It was a success!
It turns out the owners had been driving around looking for me closer to the road I landed near, so we missed each other. The owner/pilot nonchalantly told me to remember to deploy higher and track less next time I jump with a tandem. It looked like no one, but I, was concerned with my inability to reach the dropzone.
I hope you enjoyed my misadventure. It turned out to be a great experience for my mom and it is a quirky little story to remember the day by. Although it turned out safely, there are always good lessons to take away:
- Deploy higher with tandems
- Track less with tandems
- Watch where I am in free fall
- Jump with a cell phone
- At least I am confident I can land safely!