The Perfectly Good Airplane

A TRUE STORY ABOUT LETTING GO By Nicole Whitney

I was scared out of my mind and really wanted to go home.

Instead I continued onward, wide eyed and shallow-breathed. During my white knuckled 45 minute solo drive to the small rural airport, I had lots of time to question my sanity and the part of my mind that still thought this was actually a good idea. I tried reasoning with that part, negotiating with it; I even attempted to bribe it.

Come on! Turn the car around and I promise we’ll do something worthwhile and wholesome (and non-life-threatening) for the entire day. Really! It’ll be great! Turn the car around for the love of God! But it was no use.

My mind ignored me completely and the car rolled forward toward its final destination: my first skydive.

Just after 8:00 a.m., I arrived, perspiring noticeably and sheet-white.

The ‘team’ was there on the tarmac, preparing for the 10,000 foot freefall, or plotting my demise, depending on your point of view. The ‘dive master’ Cal was checking the ‘gear’ which appeared to be nothing more than a wispy sheet of silk jammed into a laundry bag. And this would be the thing that would save our butts when we plummet planet-ward at terminal speed

Another diver. a part of me instantly rises to the challenge to shout a resounding yes! Before I know it I have committed to the activity which leads to my second condition – integrity bordering on stupidity. hair wild. fiddled with a white helmet which had what appeared to be a small camera mounted on top. Again. If a situation presents itself in which I will be forced to stretch beyond my comfort zone and grow. John. why was I doing this? I knew damned well why. The five of them looked up simultaneously and gawked at my approach. especially if the only real reason for my desire to not do it is fear. In retrospect I must have looked a sight. I did NOT want to know why he was called that. No. . It sounds very glorious and brave but really it is incredibly annoying and here’s why. I am unable to say no whenever I am presented with an opportunity to grow. I stood now before them. bug eyed and spooked as though I’d just seen a ghost or was preparing to be one. If I commit to something. I have this infallible need to follow through. For as long as I can remember I have had this condition. It was early and I hadn’t slept. On the surface it may sound exciting and even valiant but I assure you it is not.in about 30 minutes from now? The pilot Joe was standing off to the side of the group and two other jumpers watched Cal prepare – Barb and someone they called “Dead Bob”.

“Um. Things moved quickly in the next few minutes. I tentatively peered inside the small silver capsule. It was time to get on the plane. incidentally. with teeny weeny Nicole about to embark on a skyward journey of horror in a very dubious looking Cessna with Dead Bob and four of his friends. As a reporter for the daily tabloid in the province. Real neat. After signing the “I promise to not to sue you if you kill me” form. the brave hero part of Nicole goes back into hibernation and the horrified teeny weeny Nicole is left to pick up the pieces and meet the challenge head on. had never before used in the Province of B. Cal gave me a brief overview of the ‘new revolutionary’ tandem skydive equipment which. And of course ‘hero Nicole’ had agreed readily with the guy and here we were. That is how I ended up there in the first place. Joe was already inside doing whatever it is pilots do to prepare for taking off. Great.C. Yippee. Yeah. where’s the rest of the plane. And so here we were. my editor had thought it’d be ‘neat’ to send his crazy rookie newbie reporter who happened to be completely horrified of heights out for the first ever tandem skydive in British Columbia.Damn! And here’s the worst part: Once I commit.” I asked. .

During the ‘ride up’. He said the question skydivers hear the most is ‘why on earth would you jump out of a perfectly good airplane’. Apparently there was to be no in flight movie or snack. This gave new meaning to the term ‘on a wing and a prayer’ for me. Scanning the tattered interior. despite appearances. I noticed a simple red plaque mounted crudely on the dashboard of the plane. and wondered ‘why did skydivers jump out of perfectly good airplanes’. they created this special plaque. as though the tape was the only thing truly holding this ‘airplane’ together. The small sign simply said: “A Perfectly Good Airplane”. All the seats except for the pilots had been ripped out and huge strips of silver tape hung throughout the interior. our ragtag group embarked. it was Dead Bob who told me the story behind the plaque. I took the scene in with utter disbelief. I responded with a polite chuckle. And now all who entered here would indeed know they were jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. The idea of flying in this ‘perfectly good airplane’ seemed about as sensible as getting inside a giant soup can and hoping to make it into outer space alive! Nonetheless. So in their infinite wisdom. the engine farted into action and we were off. .The plane had been gutted on the inside.

Bob had lived through everyone’s worst nightmare to tell the tale. skydivers are given their own unique jumper nicknames based on what horrors they lived through at the drop zone. Yes. The man in this airplane was Dead Bob One. Miraculously. He had lived through a horrible skydiving accident several years back. a series of still-visible scars covering much of his exposed body as far as I could tell. Apparently. Bob had fallen to earth from a staggering 12 thousand feet and lived to tell the tale. His parachute had malfunctioned and so had his reserve chute. But what he told me next was the strangest part of this tale.Clearly. During what seemed to be the longest 20 minutes of my life. but we’ll get to that later in the story. he also explained why he was called Dead Bob. I decided. Apparently there were TWO Dead Bobs and people numbered them to keep their identities straight. “Going In” or “bouncing” is what the jumpers called it. that was it. This was probably not the best time to tell me this story. I would have my own jumper name someday. Beyond getting to live. his award was his name. it was because they are all insane. It had taken nearly 20 minutes to climb ‘to altitude’ – a staggering 10.000 feet above the safety . Dead Bob meanwhile sat before me.

You are going to die! Yes.of solid ground.” Suddenly. this device would be as life saving as a piece of dental floss. Meanwhile. I am here to tell you not to jump. my terror level rose with every inch we climbed. The negotiating and rationalizing had taken on new levels of insistence. Without being tethered to the man wearing the tandem rig. I’d be dead (or Dead Nicole One). “Nicole. This is God speaking. sheesh. that’s just wrong. Every time I reached a level where I could not possibly get more afraid. I had in fact never known terror like this in my entire life. Sure. At this point I became acutely aware of the fact that I was the only occupant of the airplane – pilot included – who was not wearing a parachute.” my mind yelled over the noise. I did. Turn baa-aack…. this is the sign you've been waiting for. My mind screamed at me not to jump. “Well. The small airplane door was flung open to invite the roaring wind. I’d have lower instances of gingivitis but. Do not do this today. At one point it even pretended to be the voice of God. I sat on my knees sporting a red sky dive jumpsuit and a ‘tandem harness’. Ironically they told me that the higher we went. Somehow this did not sell me fully on the ‘higher is better’ idea. the safer it would be because they had ‘more time’ if anything went wrong. That extra time hadn’t helped Dead Bob One much. . it was time to jump.

we were clinging to the outside of the airplane. Scooting forward on our knees together.000 feet.Cal quickly got the tethering business out of the way. the earthly scene looks like an oil painting hovering far below you – so surreal. Now. But there was a silver lining. one would think the last thing you'd want to do would be to look down when you're up that high but I can assure you it was completely unavoidable. From that distance. I said a silent prayer of gratitude to God who was still fervently telling me to stop this madness. The ‘good’ thing about being that high up is there is nothing to gauge the height against. I looked down to see my two white knuckled fists clutching a metal bar below the wing. The next challenge was exiting the plane while still in mid flight at 10. Moments later. In order to exit safely we needed to move as one. I was now ‘stapled’ to the front of an actual skydiver and going along for the ride. Yippee. I stared blankly at the other jumpers as Cal barked the commands into my ear. we approached the door. . I blindly thrust my foot out the door. despite my ‘deer in the headlights’ demeanor.

The ‘camera man’ positioned himself to capture every moment of my glorious earth-bound plummet. clinging to plane at various angles. I knew for sure in that moment that I could not let go. My head would tilt backward to avoid colliding with the strut when we dropped. Cal was shouting in my ear again – something about letting go. Well that would just be silly. The first thing I noticed was the sensation of falling. And my arms would let go of their death grip on the plane and appropriately be crossed over my chest in a corpse like manner. Let go. I blankly observed all the other jumpers climb out of the airplane after us. I did not feel like strutting. Everyone tells you there is no feeling of falling when you skydive which is true except for the first six seconds during which you accelerate from zero to one hundred and twenty miles per hour and believe me you feel it! Don't let anyone tell you any different.We stood on a smaller metal bar called the strut. Ironically. Letting go. But that was what it was time to do. In our 10 minutes of ground training I was shown the letting go position. screams and all. . And then I did. My feet would leave the security of the strut and bend backwards between Cal’s legs.

he spoke. “Smile for the camera. my mind scrambled to comprehend this latest development. I found myself settling into this new surreal environment. leaving way to on odd floating sensation. and not Cal yelling in my ear because things had gone horribly wrong. A sound similar to ripping silk broke the silence and my stomach was yet again inside my mouth.” I thought blankly. I’d actually forgotten he was there. I noticed superman flying in front of me. Moments later. that is. Suddenly we lurched to a dead stop. “Woohoo – what a ride!” I nearly jumped out of my skin at the sound of his voice. The wailing had stopped and it was deathly quiet. as best one could when they were doing a hundred and twenty straight down.After the first six seconds of careening straight down. and did. . Dangling like dead puppets beneath the parachute strings. He was wearing a camera on his head. It was then that I thought I heard a long wailing male scream. As Cal pulled the parachute toggles off the Velcro holders. the stomach-in-mouth situation dissipated. It was much later that I realized it was the wind.

I was dangling in mid-air beneath a rectangle of bubbling silk. it turned out to be one hell of a summer. For now. I lived again and decided it was time for an even bigger challenge. and then another and another. I can’t remember what we talked about as Cal and I floated down to solid ground but I know we chatted non-stop throughout the seven minute ride. I relaxed a little more and noticed my new surroundings for the first time. Finally. we landed unceremoniously in a heap on the ground and the adventure was over.500 feet below us. Surprisingly.I took my first real breath of the day. Rays of morning sun were poking over the wall of mountain peaks to the East and the hazy morning blue sky beamed a golden hue over the breathtaking farmland mosaic 4. After 16 solo jumps and my own freefall dive. I returned to the drop zone later that year to do a 2nd tandem jump ‘just for fun’. The freefall was done. the parachute was open and it appeared as though we were going to live through this thing after all. During my ‘skydiving days’ I lived through many minor goof ups and earned a . I tried my own solo jump. And I was going to live! It was truly beautiful.

As amusing as that tale is. no matter how huge. 1986 . dear reader. THE END? Cal and Nicole freefalling over Chilliwack B. By far.nickname of my own: Sister Step Face . and most likely live. the most important thing I received that summer was the Solid belief that I could face nearly anything.C. All I had to do was let go. I think I'll leave the details of that mishap to your imagination.

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