I’ve never felt more glad to be alive than when I survived a parachute jump in 1982. ‘Survived’, perhaps, exaggerates the danger. There was none, we were told, but I was so afraid that I barely slept the night before. To this day, I’m not sure why I, and about four other close friends, did it. What were we trying to prove to each other or ourselves? It might have been because the sister of one of my friends dared us to, or because it was the kind of thing no one would have expected us to do. We were hardly paragons of macho masculinity.
As it happens, that sister of one of my friends was very nearly killed when her fixed line caught beneath her chin as she jumped. So, perhaps, there were dangers after all. The instructor and dispatcher in the plane were immediately fired.
We jumped from only 1,000 metres on fixed lines, so our parachutes opened as soon as we left the aircraft (you can’t be trusted to open your own if it’s your very first time), but it was probably doing it alone that scared me. There were two moments of sheer terror – the moment of stepping, unnaturally, into nothing (this was so terrifying that my mind never registered it at all and it remains a blank), and the moment of landing. The two minutes, in between, of floating gently in summer sunshine towards the green and pleasant Herefordshire countryside, were blissful, though my apprehension grew as the land rose rapidly towards me. The greatest danger for the amateur is landing. A colleague, much older than I was then, who jumped for charity a few weeks later, broke both his legs. I landed without incident.
I have never since felt such euphoria, have never since felt so strongly that I would rather be alive than dead, not even when the dentist gives my teeth a clean bill of health. I understand how people become junkies for danger, and I can only imagine that surviving real danger, when bullets are flying, and bombs falling, is an even bigger kick. War reporters, soldiers, sky divers – I can understand, why they want to do what they do. Even so, I have never wanted to jump into empty space again. Once was enough. Euphoria is probably best remembered, not re-experienced.
My partner and a friend of ours jumped from 4,000 metres on Saturday, at an airfield near Kolin in the Czech Republic, which is what has brought my own experience back to me. They didn’t jump alone. They were attached, separately, to professional parachutists (and, it seems, skilful filmmakers) and needed no training. They fell for a minute or two before their parachutes opened and they floated gently downwards for another five to make a soft sliding landing in the grass. Easy peasy. Would I do it again? NO.
See it here: