The following happened in the stretch of three minutes.
Stand on edge of airplane, do drills, fine. Jump off, arch, start free-fall, adjust, fine. Practice drills, fine. Practice check, read altitude, arch, fix heading, hold that heading, good. One instructor lets go. Alright, there he goes. The other instructor lets go, ok.
Oh my god, I’m actually alone now, flying on my own. Argh! Right, what am I supposed to do now? Look for heading. Those mountains there seem ok. They’re gonna be my heading, good. Hmm… Mountains are slightly moving away from me now, I’m turning gently to the right… Hmm.. I think I’ll do a tiny turn to correct that. Tilt your arms a bit, the opposite way, gently…. WHAT!?!?!? WHAT WAS THAT? WHAT HAPPENED? I’M FLIPPED OVER! 12,000 FT! Lose stability. I’m now looking at the blue skies above. Nowhere land. I can see the two instructors flying high up on top, looking down at me. Christ they’re becoming tiny so fast, means I’m dropping really fast now. I’m on my own, and spiraling down, and dropping fast, and can’t regain stability.
Flip around, continue tumbling down. Oh my God, I’m in real REAL trouble. Tumbling, tumbling, what the heck is happening, how can I stop this! One instructor speeds down and grabs hold of me, tries to flip me over. Doesn’t work, he flips over too. And now me. We’re flipping and flipping, one each time. It’s like a turn turn dance, flip to the right, flip to the left. What the hell is happening?? Why am I not stable? We’re spiraling down, spinning and spinning like a washing machine. Now he lost me and I’m tumbling alone again. Ground approaching. He reaches me again. Why is he not pulling my chute? Why on earth is he not pulling my chute??? Tumbling, tumbling, and I give up, thinking, he can’t do it. He’s not gonna be able to pull my chute. My chute is not gonna open. This is it, I’m gone, I’m gonna die. Oh Lord look at the ground approaching so fast. Goodbye world. Why the crapping *** is he not pulling my chute??? 5,000 ft. A strong jerk upwards, leg straps piercing my thighs, chest straps crushing my ribs. He pulled.
He pulled!! I have a canopy! I look up, a canopy is there, I can hear the gentle flapping of the slider. The contrast with the deafening noise of free fall is stark – this is the quietest bliss. Suddenly gone all quiet and calm… Canopy is there and it’s square and it’s open. It’s a healthy, gentle canopy. Looks as healthy as it gets. At least that. I’m alive. I’m gonna live, it’s over. Breathe, breathe. Breathe. What the hell was that??? Breathe girl breathe, you’re alive, deep breath. What the hell just happened??? Right… You gotta look down, find the ground, find where you are. You still have to land this thing. Where’s the runaway, where am I? Look for the drop zone, there’s the village, there’s the beach, we should be right next to it, find your landing zone. 4,000 ft. You’re good, you have enough time. Breathe deeply, try to relax, you’re alive. I’m gonna live!!
Except… it’s not over yet.
Start to descend and I feel the winds picking up. Christ, it wasn’t this windy before, winds have gone up while we were in the plane!
Canopy starts flapping like crazy, it’s doing its own thing, not obeying me. I flip to the right, it doesn’t even listen, it’s just doing its own thing. Now I’m being dragged sideways. Right. Turn left, quick, oh bloody hell, now I’m in the airplane area, get out of here, quick! Do I see any airplanes coming? GET OUT OF HERE! Christ you stupid canopy, you’re gonna bloody do what I tell you to do. NOW!!! 1,500 ft. I should be freaking starting my downwind leg, where the hell am I supposed to be? Alright, I should be over there, “just” half a mile away…. Alright then, forget about that, improvise. This spot will do. Go downwind. Go downwind! There’s no downwind, there’s just upwind, and sidewind and whirlwind. My path’s got quantum fuzziness, I should call this the perturbative path. Alright alright, altimeter. 800 ft! Oh my god, I’m way too high I should be at 500 ft, I’m gonna crash into those houses. Quick, do a full turn, lose altitude. Oh crap this doesn’t work too, now I’m on top of the bloody highway! I can see all the cars speeding on it. Alright turn right back, get out of here. Start final approach. This will have to do. Going down, trying to move in a straight line. I’m jerked to the right, now hard jerk to the left, try to correct canopy, it just reacts randomly, winds changing every second. Look down, ground is approaching high speed. Gosh this is really fast, I need to lose speed, and fast. I am so gonna hurt myself on this one.
When the hell should I flare. Should I do it now? I think so, I’m not sure, should I do it? Well your arms are weak you need time to flare, so do it. Now! PULL! PULL! Down! Down! HARD! I’m pulling as hard as I can, giving it all I got. The brakes feel like they weigh a ton. PULL! PULL! Alright rest, I’ve no more strength, sweating. Arms still at waist height. You need to pull more! One last try, down! PULL HARD! As hard as you can! I do it, my arms are fully down, besides my hips. My face is all blue, veins pulsing. I look to the ground, I should be about to touch down. Christ, I’m still high! I pulled too soon. What’s going to happen! Approaching fast! Oh girl, prepare, this is going to be a tough landing. Ground speeding by like crazy, I can see the little rocks in the gravel now, it looks like when I’m riding in a car on an motorway. Calm down, prepare, you’re gonna be fine, it’s gonna be ok, you’ll fall ok. Crash!! Slightly on my knees, tip over, fall onto canopy. Get stable, stop. Wow!! No biggie! Phew!
MAJOR PHEW! I thought it would be much worse. I’m laying on the ground on top of canopy. Trying to pull canopy under me as fast I can cause I know the winds will re-inflate in any second, and pull me right back up with it. It blows up almost instantly and again I feel the jerk back as it’s trying to pull me back in the air. I can’t cut away. I try the usual drill, pull on one side of it. Hoping it will collapse. It doesn’t work! Winds are too strong, the other side is fully inflated, like a balloon, pulling me with the strength of a giant, I’m not heavy enough, it’s dragging me. I stand up and throw myself in the air, jump on top of canopy, hoping to collapse it. I get a bit more of it underneath me but the bit inflated is still strong and dragging me and now, I notice, I’m at the edge of the airplane runway! I look to the right, and… There’s an airplane about to land! Maybe 300ft away from me, approaching full speed. I’m on the runaway, being dragged across by my fully inflated canopy in the way of a landing plane that is speeding towards me and is going to crush me, or crash into my canopy. What the hell is this???? I cannot believe this! I must be dreaming! Is this a bloody James Bond movie???? What the hell is happening! Right you stupid canopy, you’re gonna come here, bloody do as I tell you, NOW! Come here you stupid jerk! I’m laying down, at the edge of the runaway frantically pulling the canopy under me as fast as I possibly can. The airplane is coming, there’s no way I can loosen the canopy, it’s either pull it underneath me or have it drag me towards the way of the airplane. Pulling as fast as I can. I can see the airplane now in the right corner of my eye. I’m almost there, COME HERE YOU STUPID *STUPID* F*&%!
I do it. I’m laying down. My head is buried in the canopy. I hear the airplane pass by. It didn’t hit me. It didn’t fly into the canopy. I’m collapsed on top of the canopy, fully under me. Exhausted. Can’t even think. No power. Don’t dare moving out of the canopy, it’s gonna inflate again. Ok. Ok. Listen to the winds. As you catch a lighter stretch, jump up in a split of a second, grab as much of the canopy as you can in between your arms, and collapse it hard with your body. Quick! I do it, and it responds. It worked, some bits still flaring up ballooning but tiny ones, no major sports. Ha! I got you you bastard, you stupid canopy. You stupid stupid canopy. You’re trying to kill me! I collect it the correct way, swing it over my shoulder and look for the drop zone. Christ look where I landed I’m almost 2 miles farther down.
I start to make my way back, long, slow strides. Breathe. My legs are shaking, my knees are giving in. I’m stunned, I can’t believe what just happened, completely out. I look down, I’m surprised to see that my feet can find their way one after the other, slowly. I stare at the gravel, pacing in a daze. What the hell happened! What the hell was that!
I walk and walk with the two ton canopy over my back and I finally approach the drop zone. There’s a crowd of people staring at me, their jaws dropped in disbelief. I take a breath and move away, I’m going to the hangar hide my head in between my knees.