[Its been over a year since that fateful day back in April, 2007, when Ganesh, Anand, Santosh and I jumped off a moving airplane at 13500 feet up in the sky…. and landed using parachutes !!! I’ve been wanting to pen this post ever since ….but somehow not been able to. Could think of a million excuses, but not one of them substantial :)]
After our initial attempts to sky-dive at the ‘North London Parachute Centre’ in Cambridgeshire had been foiled 2 weeks ago by strong wind conditions [ read my previous post – ‘The dive that didn’t take off!’ ], the pressure on us to give it yet another shot had mounted to inescapable levels !
Quite a lot was at stake here ! More than our honour [we had ranted to the whole world last time, that we were going to sky-dive 😦 ], what mattered to us was that if we weren’t able to complete the dive within 6 months, then the £150 that each of us had shelled out would be forfeited ! Moreover, Anand and I were due to return to India for good in the coming month….and since, good weather conditions are something that’s just a bit too much to ask for in Britain, we knew that it had to be now or never !
Thus, on the 14th of April, 2007 [‘Vishu’ day back home in the God’s-own-country], we geared up to try our luck once again !This time around there were a couple of major changes – for one thing, Bharat couldn’t make it, as he was in India on holiday ! We couldn’t really wait for him to return as both Anand and I had time against us. [ The thinking was that Borat would return from India and do the sky-dive before the 6-month deadline runs out …but time would reveal that he didn’t …and ended up losing every single penny 😦 ]
Secondly, instead of traveling to Cambridge by bus and staying there overnight, this time we hired a Ford Focus and drove up early in the morning…..thus saving time and effort…. plus with the added advantage of having a car at our disposal, in case the weather plays spoil-sport again and we have to resort to some plan B !
Early morning on the 14th of April, at around 5 am…under the cover of darkness; Anand, Santosh and I set out from Bristol heading towards Cambridge. Anand was at the wheels […. ‘cos as usual, he wouldn’t let anyone else drive 🙂 ]. Unfortunately for us, things started going haywire as soon as we kicked off :(. Within minutes of having hit the motorway, we accidentally took a wrong exit and were forced to drive for another 15 miles before we could get a road back ! We lost our way a couple of more times en route to Cambridge, and each time, were forced to take costly detours.
However, the real issue in hand – we realized in due course, was something that was least anticipated – thick smoky Fog !!! [Santosh, who had earlier checked the weather reports for the day, had advised that there were no rains or gusts predicted…however, what he hadn’t said a word about was the extreme fog conditions that were warned …..thinking it was something innocuous :O !]. Within hours, as the sun slowly emerged out, we were able to comprehend the magnitude of the problem we were literally ‘engulfed’ in. The fog was so thick that at certain sections, the visibility was almost nil and it was virtually impossible to drive. We were scared on whether the sky-dives for the day would get cancelled ‘cos of this….Santosh called up the airfield and they confirmed our fears – all flights were GROUNDED at the moment 😦 !
It couldn’t have been worse ! Everytime we tried to sky-dive, we were being hit by a different force of nature ! Each trip to Cambridge was costing us a lot of money 😦 Getting a chance to dive was proving to be a tougher task than the actual dive in itself !
We contemplated turning back, but then Ganesh would arrive in Cambridge from London and we had agreed to pick him up there……and so we drove on.
We arrived at Cambridge a couple of hours late, thanks to the fog and all those detours we had taken. On picking Ganesh, we headed straight towards the airfield. It was slightly brighter by now, but the fog cover hadn’t really cleared. We still were confused on what to do – whether to go ahead, or rather drop the plan, turn around and resort to Plan B !!! The trouble was… though we had all been talking about Plan B as a backup option, no one had really planned what Plan B would be !!! 🙂 [yea, just how stupid could we be 🙂 ].
Somewhere along the way, we pulled over by the side of the road, and pondered…weighing our options. It was Ganesh who finally convinced us to push on and still give it a shot. We had come this far, so might as well go there and try our luck. After all, we had nothing more to lose.
When we reached the airfield, the scene was quite similar to how it was 2 weeks ago when we were there. All the flights were grounded and hoards of frustrated sky-diving enthusiasts wiled away their time in the lounge. We went into the office and registered. Our slot numbers were in the range of 50’s, which meant that, should the weather improve and they actually start diving, then we’d have to wait for over 50 people to complete their dives before we get our turns !
Having completed our training 2 weeks ago, we didn’t have to go through the torture again. Hence, we went into the lounge and sat around waiting.
At around noon, the first signs of hope began to surface. The fog was fast clearing up and the bright blue sky emerged through the gaps ! 🙂
Soon, there was a flurry of activity as they finally announced that the dives were about to begin 🙂 Our joy knew no bounds….yet we weren’t really sure if we’d get a chance, as 50 people would have to complete their dives first…..and all this would have to be over before sunset …..else we’d be screwed !!!
The first flight took off carrying about 5-6 divers, their trainers and camera-men. It was about 10 minutes later, that we noticed the spectators on the ground screaming out loud and pointing towards the heavens. We looked up in the direction that they were pointing to …and up there in the sky, was a tiny speck ….which happened to be the airplane …and out of it a few minute dots emerged !!!
The first batch of divers had taken-off !!! [Gosh, 13,500 feet was really really high !!!]
It took another 10 minutes or so before the divers finally touched down using their parachutes ! About 10 minutes later the plane landed, and was ready to take on the next batch of people. So in effect, one batch took about half an hour in all. Santosh and I quickly ran through the mathematics and figured out that we wouldn’t get our turns until late in the evening…if at all we do ! Any further delays would prove quite costly, as we’d have to be done with it before the sun goes down 😦
From the next batch on, the jumps progressed in full swing …We came across quite a lot of first-timers, men, women , professionals etc…. diving and landing in quick succession. The ambience at the airfield was totally upbeat !
Finally, at around 4 or 5 in the evening, Santosh and I were summoned for our dives ! Yea, it was much sooner than what we had expected …..seemed as though few folks didn’t have the nerves and had pulled out in the last minute 🙂 Ganesh and Anand were still awaiting their turns and would have to be in the next batch.
Santosh and I marched into the hangar, got into a bunch of blue body-suits, helmets, goggles and the like…and were introduced to our respective trainers and cameramen. My trainer was a huge, bulky guy, and we practiced the basic dive positions that we were supposed to assume during the jump.
When the plane touched down following the previous batch, we were escorted into it. There were about 4-5 first timers in the flight, 2-3 pro’s, a few cameramen……and all of us sat on the floor ! Before I could realize it, the doors were slammed shut and the plane took-off ! There were no seat-belts, no safety announcements, no pretty air-hostesses and definitely no welcome drinks !!!
By now, my heart was beating faster than ever before, and as the plane went on gaining altitude, the excitement levels inside kept building ! Just before reaching the 13500 feet mark, all the first-timers, including me, were strapped on to our respective trainers. I double-checked the cable to ensure that it was secure – after all, my entire life depended on it !
At 13,500 feet, the green bulbs finally glowed and the doors were swung open !!! Instantly; powerful, cold winds started gushing into the cabin…..
Initially, the professional divers jumped off. Next one of the other first-timers leapt off with her trainer …then it was Santosh’s turn ! I hardly noticed him diving, ‘cos by now, my trainer was leading us closer and closer towards the door. My camera man was close by too. Another first-timer jumped off …and NOW …the MOMENT had finally arrived !!!
First, the camera-man moved towards the door and holding on to the railing at the top, he carefully led his body outside, whilst still clinging on to the moving plane !!!
My jaws dropped !!! I just couldn’t believe my eyes – this guy was standing on a small railing outside the moving plane in mid-air…… hanging on to the top of the door with one hand and shooting us with the camera fitted onto his helmet !
As the trainer slowly pushed me forward to the edge of the door [with him strapped on behind me], I got my first glimpse of the earth below …….and that was when I came to realize how high 13500 feet actually is !
FREAKING HELL ……!!! It was as if we were on the edge of the STRATOSPHERE !!! A little higher and I could be sitting on the moon 🙂 [Ok, thats an exaggeration 🙂 ] …..The curvature of the earth was clearly visible and we were so DAMN high that I could hardly make out any of the structures on the ground!
The trainer tapped me once on my shoulder, which meant I had to take on the initial dive position …that is, with my hands folded and grabbing on the straps on my shoulders and my body arched forward. [It wasn’t possible to speak anything audible with the wind slamming on our faces, and so we had, during the initial training, agreed upon these ingenious ‘shoulder-tapping’ communication mechanisms]!
Before I could realize it or mentally prepare myself, the trainer PLUNGED OUT of the airplane …carrying me along with him…. and I was AIR-BORNE !!!
Time FROZE !!! The silence was deafening !!!
Out of the blue, I got jolted into reality……and the next thing I realize, we were tumbling and twisting and somersaulting through the air [I guess it was the massive weight difference between us that caused this] ! Within seconds of being air-borne, the trainer opened a smaller chute, which I guess was meant for balance. …and almost instantly we stopped tumbling ….. But was still freely falling down towards the earth ……at UNBELIEVABLE VELOCITIES !!!
The trainer tapped again on my shoulder …which meant that I had to assume the free-fall position – by stretching my arms out wide ! But I hardly felt it as I was still pretty shaken-up by the ‘turn’ of events ! Soon he was tapping harder and then almost beating on my shoulders, while at the same time screaming out loud into my ears ! That ultimately helped, and I got the message 🙂
As I tried to compose myself and get a ‘hang’ of the situation, the instructor started screaming into my ears yet again ! This time he said something like, “Look at the camera ….look at the camera !!!”
“Where the %*&* is the camera?”, I shouted back.
He pointed out straight ahead….and right in front of us was the camera man…..cutting through the air and moving closer and closer towards us, all the while shooting us with the camera fixed on his head ! It was unbelievable……I mean, where on earth [..or rather the ‘sky’] did he come from now ??? He had jumped off a couple of seconds before we took off from the plane, and now he was hovering […..or rather ‘falling’] right next to us !
I tried to smile at the camera ….but the muscles on my face just wouldn’t move !!! The tremendous force of the cold air hitting on my face had almost paralysed my senses !
Looking back at the experience, I simply cannot describe what was running through my head at that instant …the feeling of free-fall was absolutely INCREDIBLE……totally OUT-OF-THIS-WORLD !!!
In about 30 seconds or so that the free-fall lasted, we had dropped from 13,500 feet to about 5000 feet !!! [ Now ….you don’t have to be an Isaac Newton to figure out how fast we were falling]
Speaking about Newton, too bad sky-diving wasn’t around in Cambridge way back in the 17th century when he walked around the Universities here….else, he needn’t have gone through the trauma of an apple falling on his head to discover Gravity 🙂
At 5000 feet, the parachute was opened by the trainer. Instantly, our acceleration towards the earth was arrested with a jolt and a tremendous force pulled us back up…The impact to the chest at this stage was really heavy, nevertheless, bearable !
Now that the chutes were open, everything suddenly calmed down ! We were falling at a very gentle pace, and there was nothing more to fear 🙂 ……but not for long !
The trainer showed me the controls of the parachute. There were two straps that he held on to, in order to manoeuvre the flight. He even offered me the controls and showed me how pulling the left strap would tilt us towards the left, and the right would accordingly do the reverse.
Next, he said we could do some spirals……. Sounded interesting ! But the moment he pulled on that left strap, we swung on towards the left in a huge semi-circle ! I wasn’t prepared for this and it freaked the hell out of me ! ! ! Next, he said he was going to swing on to the right, and asked me to look up towards the parachute while we were at it !
Before I could realize it, we were being hurled violently towards the right and just as he had requested, I looked up – and up there, I could see the chute and beyond that, was the EARTH !!! [We were in a nearly 45-degree angle with the chutes below and ourselves on top !]
That’s it ! “No more spirals”, I told the trainer. Thankfully, the remainder of the fall was slow and mellow, as we carefully navigated the chute towards the centre of the field. It was a very unique feeling – being suspended in the air, having absolutely nothing underneath my feet !
In about 10 minutes or so, the ground started to appear within reach ….and a while later, we landed on the ground …..right in front of our camera-man ! The trainer had manoeuvred us precisely onto the marked spot in the middle of the field !
As I savoured the sweet feeling of accomplishment….and the earth beneath my feet, the instructor released me from the straps. I knelt on the ground for a second ….and then, got up, thanked the instructor and the camera-man and walked triumphantly back to the building. Santosh, who had landed a few minutes before, welcomed me there ! He was pretty much on a high as well. Together, we went into the projector room, where we were shown the videos of our jumps. The videos had come out superb !!! The lady said that the DVDs would be mailed to us in about 2 weeks time…and we could hardly wait !
Ganesh and Anand went in the next batch. Ganesh had some electrifying adventures even before he got onto the plane […. which he didn’t reveal to us until much later]. Our man had somehowfound himself stuck inside the toilet just 15 minutes before his scheduled take-off time 🙂 ! But then, thanks to a little presence of mind and his trademark audacity, he had extricated himself from the mess, just in time to make it onto the flight !
Ganesh was the first to land ….and the guy was exuberant as ever ! Santosh and I joined him for the screening of his video…and I must admit, this inarguably had to be the coolest sky-dive video we’d ever seen !!! This guy’s seriously got some real nerves ! While the rest of the divers were biting their nails, our man was bantering with them and making faces at the camera 🙂
The last person to land was Anand and we all crowded around him as he walked down the tarmac……He seemed exhausted and quite visibly dazed ! Sluggishly he dragged himself onto on a bench and we looked up at his dazzled face hoping to catch his initial words about the dive experience. But he just blindly looked back at us …completely dumbstruck !!! That was when we realized those words weren’t going to come …..atleast not in the near future !
That silence lasted well over an hour – during which he just sat there with his head hanging low, staring at the ground below his feet !! [Seemed to us that he just couldn’t appreciate enough, the comfort of having the earth below his feet ! ]
Finally just before the sun went down, he spoke ! That was when we got to know about his experience ….about how all the spirals they performed had totally freaked the spirits out of him !
Now that Anand was back to normal, it was time for us to leave. Anand took the wheels, as he still wouldn’t allow any of us to drive ….and we headed back gallantly into Cambridge town. There, once again we visited ‘Pipasha’ the supposedly ‘Indian’ [..but actually Bangladeshi] restaurant [….where we had dined in our previous adventure to Cambridge] and celebrated our GREAT achievement !
Ganesh split up to catch his bus to London, while the rest of us drove back into Bristol, reaching home at about 1 AM ! It wasn’t until much later that I revealed the whole sky-dive adventure to my folks ….and trust me, to this day, whenever I go out on a trip, my mom severely reprimands me against it …. that I can’t even think of doing something like this ever again !!! 🙂
By the way, check out the full video of my dive at –>
It cost me a 100 pounds for this video, hence, please do watch it and don’t forget to comment on it 🙂
[Disclaimer: What happens at precisely 2.00 minutes into the video was completely unintentional, and I hadn’t even realized it until I saw the video :)]