Monday, August 30, 2010

Do you wanna fly?

Americans are long known for their partying culture. Every city in America will have few streets or sometimes a considerable area dedicated for late night parties. There is but one place where the entire city is dedicated to partying, the name is Miami. When my practice head called me and asked me if I can travel to Miami to get knowledge transfer from our clients Burger King, I answered “Well... hmmm... yeah... I am OK” He just agreed to pay money for eating honey, did he expect me to say no?

A month and a half had gone by, working (you kidding me!) and partying (mostly staring at disco lights like a rabbit caught in head lights). Jude Vimal, my closest pal from college was in the US for three years and he had decided to visit Miami during a four day long weekend. We started planning three weeks in advance. The list was endless; Key West, Everglades, Snorkelling, Parasailing, Tampa, Miami Beach and what not. When we were discussing over the phone, I was casually mentioning how I knew a lady in my office who does sky diving. I had done it; me and my big mouth. There is no way I am going to talk him out of this, I must admit I was equally thrilled with the idea, me and my best pal jumping out of an aircraft simultaneously.

The next few days went by with me exploring various drop points (point from where divers jump off the aircraft). The most scenic ones close to the oceans were booked in advance for the long weekend. Nevertheless we were not the only lunatics around. Eventually, we had booked our suicide point, oh what? Sorry!! Drop point. It is a couple of hours drive into central Florida. So, the countdown had started for us to experience one of mankind’s greatest fascinations, the power of flight. Jude finally arrived with his friend at Miami and I had rented a fabulous dark blue Volkswagen Jetta for the weekend. We had visited multiple places in the first two days of his visit.

Me driving my Jetta

Tomorrow is the big day and we went to sleep very early. How would it feel if someone told you on the day of your English exam that it was actually maths exam that day? How would it feel to constantly have that same feeling of shock and despair for hours together? Well!!! Enrol for sky diving and try sleeping the previous night. I could see my parachute not deploying as if I were seated inside a 3D movie theatre; next second I am in the bedroom. I was weighing my options, loose $200? Or risk life and loose $200? It is not too late; I can act as if I have flu in the morning (I don’t want to be seen as chickening out). I woke up to a loud screech from the alarm. What a heartening sight to see the same ghost in Jude’s face and when we exchanged looks we knew we were sailing on the same boat.

The breakfast was in utmost silence and no words were spoken during the two hours of drive. As our GPS alerted of the final right turn, I knew for sure that was the wrong turn. All the courage had disappeared when we sighted a distant object falling in a clear blue cloudless sky. We exchanged nervous looks as we saw a man land in front of us in his parachute after a minute. Am I inside some Hollywood movie stunt? The next step was to sign lot of documents; disclaimers, insurance waivers and many more formalities. Why did I get the feeling of a goat walking itself into a butcher shop? 5 hours of waiting was not doing any good to the butterflies trapped inside my stomach. Professional sky divers would walk into the room we were waiting with deflated parachutes, assemble them very carefully, have a brief rest and get ready for their next jump.

What are we looking at?

Oh!!! That...

Did I hear my name being called? Damn right, I did! I was advised that I would be buckled to an expert diver and there would be one person jumping with us to capture the video. I had put on my diving gear and the thrill of flying got me all pumped up. The aircraft was waiting for us to board; A Cessna 206 with its engine rumbling. As I stepped out of the air conditioned room, I could feel the warmth of the early summer afternoon and the nerves seemed to ease out. After a final wave to Jude and his friend, I stepped into the aircraft (They would jump next round). The aircraft was nothing like the luxurious KingFisher flights, it had two parallel long seats (like our school benches) to either side and a few handrails for support. There was one young girl on her first jump and several more experts doing their routine jumps. We were all seated on the benches with legs to either side like mounted on a horse one behind the other. I was seated right in front of my instructor who was repeating the instructions for safe jump. The altimeter showed 5,000 feet (1.5 Km) when he started buckling my gear with his and he handed over a hard plastic protective cover for my eyes. I watched the land beneath through the window and the huge water body, Lake Okeechobee, one of the largest fresh water lakes of US. The altimeter showed a climb to 10,000 feet (3 Km) and my heart beat was climbing with the altitude.

As the flight settled at 13,500 feet (4 Km), the experts started moving to the door of the aircraft. I could not take my eyes of the person in the front of the queue as he positioned himself at the door. Blink of my eye and he is gone and that could have been my first unreported heart attack. I was watching one after the other everyone vanishing into thin air. My photographer positioned herself near the wings of the aircraft and I am seated at the edge of the door buckled to my instructor with my legs dangling off. My instructor was speaking into my ears “don’t look below when you jump, pose to the video camera”. I nodded my head in agreement and he said “Ready... On Count of three... One... Two... Here we go...” and he pressed forward and we went into a somersault and I could see the sky and the next second we were flying (falling) with my body facing the earth and the instructor on top of me.

Within seconds we were accelerating up to 200 kmph; I could feel the wind striking against my face in particular and the noise of wind was tearing through my ears. [200 Kmph is the terminal velocity for sky divers]. Within seconds my photographer joined us and was teaching some acrobatic moves. Against my assumption, I could not feel the fall (the land was not getting bigger, it appeared static) and I appeared to be flying than falling. My instructor signalled at a distant object in the sky; it was the young girl and her instructor falling. He signalled to me and deployed the chutes; with a sudden jerk, I felt myself being pulled up into the sky and my photographer vanished below my feet. I could see the other pair deploying the chute and their photographer too disappeared in seconds; the stark contrast at the falling speed of their free falling photographer and them with a parachute made my heart freeze once more. (The photographers landed earlier than us to capture our landing in video)

With the parachute deployed and we drifting relatively slowly, my brain started to function more clearly and I could finally admire my flight and the scene below me. Now with calmness finally restored, I could hear my instructor speaking, he taught me to steer a parachute, to turn, to brake and accelerate and he let me take partial control for some time. I could see fields below me and I wanted to ask him if we were going to land on the field but decided against it. He seemed to accelerate the chute away from the field and suddenly the runway was below me and we had arrived back at where we took off. He was steering us exactly to a spot filled with sand and a team standing to receive us. He asked me to lift my leg high, so that he could land with his feet and not mine. I could not guess our altitude from the land below, it wasn't until we landed that I realized we were so close, but the instructor seemed to know exactly where we were and what he was doing. He pulled the flaps of the chute and we came to a complete halt on the air and we landed so smoothly exactly in the middle of the landing spot (how he steered us there, only he could know).

I thanked the well trained team and realized how my fear was baseless. Every time I saw the replay of the video, I could still recollect the awe I experienced with the dive. It is somehow impossible for me to capture in words the thrill of sky diving. If you have not done sky diving before and you are indecisive, I would strongly recommend you to try. Make sure you have a well trained team in place. My tried and tested team, Skydive Air Adventures

Video of the jump,
Part 1

Part 2

Part 3


  1. good writting!
    sort of made us experience the skydrive.
    and, irrelavent, ur hair in the 5th pic is 'whoa'!!! :P :P