A baby boomer falls … from the sky

A few months ago, BoomerCafé ran a piece about skydiving. To wit, about an adventurous if reluctant baby boomer named Joe DiDonato who went skydiving as part of his son’s bachelor party. Now, writing from West Milford, New Jersey, Joe gives us a second installment: his best effort to describe the rush. Quite appropriately, he calls it Falling Out of the Sky.

Of the several unique events that comprise skydiving’s anatomy, surely freefall is its beating heart. It bombards the senses with novel stimuli which rapidly morph as you descend. My son and I shared that memorable experience for the first time at his bachelor party. Here are my collected impressions just before, and while, falling out of the sky.

Joe (left) with his instructor.

We sat in the crowded airplane as it spiraled upward. Rich, my instructor and jump partner, was busy tethering our harnesses together for a tandem jump. The plane banked sharply a final time and leveled off.

We had arrived at 14,500 feet and were just moments away from the drop zone. The door was thrown open, a green light ignited, and everyone began moving toward the sunlit hole at the rear of the cabin.

Rich and I were sitting on the floor near the door as my son and his instructor, who were ahead of us, seemingly disappeared into thin air. Rich slid us along the floor until he was sitting on the outer edge of the doorway. Mind you, I was strapped in front of him. I dangled outside of the plane on the threshold of untamed gravity.

In that moment the vista before and below me was incomprehensible. A lifetime of experience could not stifle my astonishment. Somewhere in my trance I heard Rich’s voice say, “Aw right Joe, arms crossed, head back.” He whooped as he hurled us into freefall.

The first sensation was the tumbling. Only a few seconds elapsed before Rich stabilized us: him above, me below with body parallel to the earth’s surface. With neither Rich nor the other jumpers in my view, I began the descent with an eerie sense of isolation.

The wind amplified exponentially and my hands were cold. When we boarded the plane fifteen minutes before, the ground temperature was a balmy seventy-two degrees. At launch altitude it was fifty degrees colder. The chill was not destined to linger, though, because we were continually dropping into warmer air.

Within twelve seconds from launch our fall rate cranked up to 120 mph. We would stay at that rate for the duration of freefall. In physics that speed is known as “terminal velocity,” a most unpleasant name when applied to skydiving. At that speed the wind roared with the force of an F2 tornado, obliterating all other sound.

Now, this is the part that I still have difficulty getting my mind around. Freefall lasted just over fifty seconds. In that time we plunged more than 8,500 feet. Imagine falling the height of a sixteen story building every second for fifty-something seconds!

With shocking abruptness the parachute opened and the falling ceased. The maniacal roar of the wind instantly gave way to placid silence. The first sound I heard was my beating heart.

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