Sun Herald's Christina Steube crosses skydiving off her bucket list

csteube@sunherald.comSeptember 12, 2013 

It’s on almost everyone’s bucket list, but very few actually go through with it.

I’m talking about skydiving. It’s the ultimate adrenaline rush. And recently, I had the opportunity to jump from a plane.

Most people thought I had lost my mind when I said I was doing it, including friends and coworkers.

“Why would you jump from a perfectly good plane?”

“You have life insurance, right?”

“Who gets your car?”

“Are you crazy?”

Those were just a few of the questions I heard in the days before the jump. But I will tell you, believe it or not, I never once felt unsafe.

Getting ready

On Saturday, Sept. 7, I drove just across the state line to Skydive N’Awlins in Slidell. Owners Alfred Neuman and Brenda Grafton are from Gautier, but found that Slidell was the perfect location for their skydiving business since it was between the Mississippi Gulf Coast tourism base and New Orleans.

The two were more than happy to drop me out of a plane. When I arrived at 4:30 that afternoon, I went to their hangar at the back of the Slidell Airport.

That’s when the nerves hit. Brenda let me ride with her to the runway to pick up the previous jumpers who had just landed. As I saw them glide down to their feet, I became more excited. The landing seemed smooth. I could totally do this.

I went back to the hangar to meet my tandem instructor, “Hippie” Tom Tharp. Hippie Tom had shaggy hair and an excitement about skydiving that I’d never seen before. He’s made more than 8,000 jumps, I found out later.

He took me out to the small Cessna I would be jumping out of to give me the rundown. After that, it was time to get ready.

I was putting on the jumpsuit, harness, and the most ridiculous helmet known to mankind.

Hippie Tom had jokes. Lots of jokes. And I laughed. Probably mostly nervous laughter, but still.

“I really hope that duct tape in the parachute holds.”

“I’ve never jumped before, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.”

“You only need a parachute if you plan to do this more than once.”

It was fine. I laughed a lot and I think that’s the point. It takes your mind off of falling from the sky, a little bit. I knew he was kidding. I think.

The flight

Four jumpers and the pilot climbed into the one-seater Cessna. Three of us sat on the floor behind the seat near the rear of the plane and one other jumper sat near the front with the side window cracked opened.

I can honestly say I’ve never been in a plane that took off with the window open before.

The flight up to 10,000 feet took about 15 minutes. I watched the altimeter needle move as we climbed higher and higher.

I looked out the window to see Lake Ponchartrain nudged next to very tiny houses and trees. I’ve flown many times before so that part didn’t really bother me. But, the sign that said “Don’t touch the pilot’s seat or we may DIE!” worried me a little.

Hippie Tom was asleep for most of ride up to the drop point. He said it was a long flight. I tapped him to wake him up and he said, “What? They didn’t tell you about my narcolep.....zzzzzzz.” Told you he had jokes.

The fall

It was jump time.

Hippie Tom instructed me to move backward towards the door. At that point, he hooked his harness to mine and I put my goggles over my eyes.

He shouted, “door open” and that’s exactly what happened. The air was cold and the wind was strong.

One jumper climbed out on the foot rail and jumped ahead of us. Then, I was sitting on the edge of the plane staring at the ground 10,000 feet below.

I was instructed to put my left foot out on the foot rail, and then my right. The wind was so strong from the movement of the plane that my foot kept moving from the rail.

A few seconds later, Tom flipped us out of the plane.

This is the hard part to describe.

As we front-flipped out of the plane, I was instructed to arch and lift my hands up. We were falling at 120 miles per hour towards the ground.

During the free fall, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I thought it was because of the thinness of the air at that height and the fact that it was moving so quickly past me, I couldn’t get any air. Veteran skydivers would later tell me that it was because I was holding my breath.

We fell for about a minute, but it felt like forever. The pressure of the fall moved my googles.

During that minute, we fell about 5,000 feet.

The parachute opened and we glided down the rest of the way. The view was incredible and the pictures and video just don’t do it justice.

It took about five minutes from the time the parachute opened to land on the ground.

You’re supposed to land on your feet and run out the landing. My feet did hit first, followed by my knees and torso and we slid on the ground for about 10 yards.

Despite the less-than-graceful landing, everything else was pretty smooth. There was no rough jerk from the parachute opening and it didn’t hurt to land.

I couldn’t believe I actually jumped out of a plane. Honestly, if there wasn’t video proof, I would have thought it was a dream.

And I would do it again in a heartbeat.

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