Jump And Hope

Looking back at a lifetime of jumping out of perfectly good planes - and adding up the injuries - the author concludes that skydiving is every bit as crazy as it looks

Bob Jones
Friday - April 28, 2006
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The bug-eyed author (right) prior to his first jump in 1963
The bug-eyed author (right) prior to his
first jump in 1963

I’m 70 and, sure, I miss my 20s and 30s in the jazz cellars of Europe and the old Lewers Loft Honolulu - and I miss leaping out the open door of an airplane at 12,000 feet into the loud rush of wind and the long, silent, exhilarating fall to earth.

I’d do it again tomorrow if I thought my knees could take it and my cardiovascular stent might not pop loose.

Skydiving - there’s nothing so satisfying. Yeah, I know, most of you wonder what kind of nut case would jump out of a perfectly good airplane (you’ll read later that a ‘chute comes in handy for getting out of a notso-good airplane!).

I’m a former D-license (instructor, jumpmaster, night and water jumps) sport parachutist, and former president of the 50th State Skydiving Club.

The first free-fall student I put out of a plane over the old Kunia sugar fields went all the way in, never pulling his ripcord to deploy his chute. Suicide? Ground fixation? Who knows? No-pullers never survive.

Skydiving has inherent dangers. Fractured bones, torn ten-dons and pulled muscles, I’ve had ‘em all. Fatalities usually are the result of carelessness or broken safety rules.

Then there’s the unexpected. On Sept. 18, 1966, on a Twin Beechcraft jump-run jumpmastered by former longtime Reyn’s Ala Moana manager Tom Anderson, we all had to do an emergency bail-out when the plane developed engine trouble and the pilot had to glide into the Kunia air strip.

Then there are the mysteries. The 1996 case of Hildegarde Ferrera, who made a tandem parachute jump here for her 99th birthday, wrenched her neck going out and died in the hospital 15 days later. Margaret Thomas, killed in 2006 along with her instructor, Greg Hunter, when their parachute failed to open during a tandem jump and they fell into a Mokuleia yard. January’s deaths of 69-year-old instructor Erich Mueller and tandem student Saori Takahashi in the ocean.

MidWeek’s Kerry Miller during a tandem jump with instructor Shaun Dunn of Skydive Hawaii
MidWeek’s Kerry Miller during a
tandem jump with instructor Shaun
Dunn of Skydive Hawaii

Skydivers joke that it’s not the speed - terminal velocity of 126 mph - not 300 as a local reporter wrote - that kills you, it’s the sudden stop.

Here’s a common skydiving joke:

Q: What’s the difference between golf and skydiving?

A: In golf you go WHACK and then you go “uh-oh.” In sky-diving you go “uh-oh” and then you go WHACK.

Skydivers tend to make light of the danger and the deaths. In the case of my student fatality, the other club members were most upset that jumps were cancelled for the rest of that day.

I’m not a big fan of tandem jumping - where the student is attached to the instructor, especially one near my age. If the instructor has a stroke or heart attack on the way down you’re in trouble. Most people don’t have the time or money to go through solo-skydiving training. So maybe they should stick to catamaran sailing on the Maita’i off Waikiki - if they can swim (the Maita’i predecessor, the Leahi, sank on a tourist cruise.)

I’d not have missed skydiving for anything, in spite of that fatality, my several broken bones and the damage to my knees from the days when our ancient TU-7 parachutes didn’t land you on tippy-toes as do today’s new para-sail kind.

I still daydream of April 29, 1967, when I leaped from 22,640 feet over Kunia on oxygen with local jumpers Ken Neustel, K.C. Craven and Donn McLean. OK, so we landed two miles from the target!

And my illegal-as-hell jump with Army man John Strunks (C-license 2446) from a U.S. Huey helicopter over the Mekong Delta in Vietnam on May 9, 1966, where a target miss at the Ap Dong Special Forces camp would have landed us in a minefield or on barbed wire. In June of that year, I made a combat jump at Phan Thiet with Vietnamese paratroopers from 7,700 feet in a Vietnamese Air Force H-34 helicopter.

Don’t trash skydiving - the usual first reaction when there’s a death. Jumpers statistically are safer with those parachutes on their backs then they are with automobiles around them.

But if you want to buy someone you love a one-shot good time, maybe that Maita’i catamaran ticket isn’t such a bad idea.

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