By Suzanne Cole
Having rested my face against the window of commercial planes all my life, I had often wished that I could jump out the window and be free as a bird in flight without the roar of engines and the onboard clatter and chatter. So I decided that in celebration of my 65th birthday I would skydive in tandem, much to my husband’s chagrin, but also support. He could not imagine jumping out of a perfectly good plane.
I had done research on the subject and after talking to Al, the general manager at Skydive Arizona, I knew that other disabled people had successfully skydived in tandem, so why couldn’t I? I had also done research on the Internet and learned that the first tandem skydive took place in 1977 and the special tandem gear, collectively called a rig, was patented in 1987 by Strong Enterprises, a top maker and supplier of all kinds of parachutes and relevant equipment.
I discovered that the tandem harness, drogue chute, reserve chute, main canopy and all connecting equipment costs over $9,000, so I fully understood and appreciated the fee for this greatest of birthday presents I was giving to myself. The fee for the photographer, an Australian named Ash, was also appropriate, considering the amazing still shots he would get from the camera attached to his helmet, and the real action recorded by his digital video camera, attached likewise. He would trip the shutter with a mouth device and get me in every frame, he said–how, I couldn’t imagine.
I reported to Skydive Arizona at the Eloy Airport at 9:30 on Saturday morning (I had filled out the required paperwork and seen the requisite video two days before). Upon arrival at the Eloy Airport drop zone, my husband unloaded my electric scooter from my car, and about an hour later I rode my scooter out to the plane and was lifted into the DeHavilland Twin Otter by two members of the staff. I was seated between Matt and Ash on a long bench across from the garage style door. The other jumpers, including three girls, climbed up a ladder into the plane. There were 23 jumpers in all, all much younger than I.
As the plane climbed, the patchwork of fields of agriculture and desert got smaller and smaller. Finally we leveled off over Eloy, about halfway between Phoenix and Tucson