This jump was scheduled at 11:00, so it wouldn’t be as cold. My Mom showed up to watch, along with my three year old nephew Eddie. He liked running around the airport a lot, and watched several loads of jumpers. I was glad to see that this time I’d be jumping out of the Otter instead of the Cessna. My legs still hurt a little, but it was much better and I was sure there’d be no permanent injury.
I had Hanne and Gary as Jumpmasters. I was discouraged by the previous jump but still thought I had a chance to make it. Hanne drilled me on my arch a lot before I geared up. I asked her and Gary not to give up on my arching until we got as low as they felt comfortable with. We didn’t have a lot of time left, so I skipped the radio check. Hanne mentioned this, but Gary said that he had checked the radio and it worked OK. Focusing on the jump, I went along with this and we boarded the plane. This was something I would come to sorely regret.
As we climbed to 13,500 feet I focused a lot on what I was feeling. My major thought about this jump was that it was a chore, and that I wanted to get it over with. Perhaps this was an impatience to get on with the objectives, since I was redoing a level. I still felt the adrenaline escalation that went with the jump, and I’ve come to realize that these little slices of fear are actually quite enjoyable. As the plane reached its altitude my thoughts shifted to the jump and performing properly.
We lined up in the door and as I went through the jump sequence I hesitated a little. I’m still not sure why. I think that I just didn’t feel like I had the rhythm right; an Otter exit is a little like dancing and it feels really rhythmic. In spite of that I had a good exit and got into my arch much faster than in the Cessna. Hanne gave me the usual legs out correction, I adjusted, and I got a thumbs up. I looked over at Gary and got another thumbs up. I had the arch! Slowly, they loosed their grip on me. I did a correct practice touch and my second COA, and got a couple of adjustment signals. I felt their grip loosen more, which apparently was them letting go completely, and I was falling stably.
Somehow I forgot the jump objectives. Perhaps I was too caught up in trying to fall stably. I never picked out a point on the horizon. I just felt like I had to keep looking at the JMs for guidance, and every time I did my arch buckled a bit. The JMs kept having to grab on again and give me more signals to fix my arch. I started to lose confidence and my arch got much worse.
The weirdest part of the jump was when Gary let go at my side and tracked around to face me in the air. One second, he was perpendicular to me, like a capital T with him as the base. A second later and we’re a straight line with him facing me. It was just like a movie where someone evil comes up in your face suddenly. I was startled. He was trying to tell me something and I’d been looking at Hanne, so apparently he had decided to do this to get my full attention. He gave me some signals but I couldn’t arch properly after that and he and Hanne had to reattach. I was so absorbed in my arch that for the first time, I lost altitude awareness. Hanne tapped my altimeter at 5,000 feet — I had dropped below 5,500 feet without giving the signal! I gasped, and prepared for an immediate chute pull. I pulled at 4,500 feet, which was by far more important than the 5,500 signal, and prepared for a normal canopy ride and landing. Unfortunately, this one would prove to be far from normal.
I played around in the air a while, thinking that I would probably have to repeat level 3 again, but resolving to enjoy the canopy ride. “That’s funny”, I thought to myself, “the radio hasn’t come on yet.” I swallowed to pop my ears and strained to listen, but heard mostly static. Finally, I heard a barely audible command to turn right. I turned, and heard the command to stop turn, so I did. Then nothing. An occasional burst of static, or something I couldn’t make out, but no commands. I was at 1,500 feet at this point and above the trees. This was the most fear I’d ever felt skydiving.
I decided that I’d have to do my landing myself, so at 1,200 feet I headed for the airport. At 800 feet I was at the edge of the airport, which was fine. I was feeling a little more comfortable. I looked down for the wind sock and it looked like I was coming downwind, but was a little off. Still, I felt I’d stick to the landing pattern I had chosen. In fact, the wind that morning kept changing, so my landing pattern would have been fine.
Around 500 feet I started to doubt myself and get scared again. The ground was coming up fast, and I kept hearing crackles from the radio. Listening for the radio, I skipped my crosswind turn at 400 feet and then heard the radio come on enough to barely hear: “turn right! turn right!” I began a gentle right turn around 300 feet but stopped, and the radio came on again, telling me to keep turning. I did, knowing that I’d be in for a hard landing. The radio man was trying to have me land crosswind — the best strategy at that point because I hadn’t executed a crosswind turn. This time I waited for the radio to tell me to flare, and heard it: “FLARE! FLARE!” I panicked trying to react to this and flared with my hands out. I think I was trying to land without crashing my feet on the ground again. I hit down fairly hard, but perhaps a little less hard than my third jump. Since I had my hands out, my right hand slammed the ground too, reinjuring my right thumb, which I had fractured skiing.
I was in pain on the ground and didn’t get up at first. The radio man came running over to see if I needed medical attention. I got up, dizzy and in pain, and after a quick examination puntuated with “relax!” and “don’t move just yet!” he helped me pack up and carry my chute in. I was upset and demoralized both for the injury and the fact that I didn’t arch properly. On the walk to the hangar I told several people that I wouldn’t be jumping again.
Hanne did my debriefing. She seemed a little upset by my attitude and asked me to reconsider skydiving. She said that everyone who skydives has some “scar” from it yet they all still think that it is worth it. She wrote “try level 3 again in the spring” in my logbook. I left, my right hand on ice, with my spirits low and in a lot of pain. It took about 6 weeks for the thumb to recover, but only about a week for my attitude to recover. I’m not a quitter, and I’ll continue until I master skydiving enough to do a solo jump. Then, and only then, can I decide whether the sport is something I want to do regularly.