Friday, July 16, 2010

Feeling grounded at 10,000 feet...

Feeling grounded at 10,000 feet

By Ken Herar, Special to the Times July 16, 2010

It's a bird. It's a plane. No, it's one of the AbbyFest skydivers coming in for a safe landing at the Abbotsford Skydive Centre.

After decades of driving by the Drop Zone, I finally decided to take the giant leap of faith.

The jump was initially scheduled for Canada Day, but due to the low cloud ceiling it was postponed. AbbyFest organizer, Musleh Hakki jumped last year with Abbotsford MP Ed Fast to enhance awareness of multiculturalism and diversity in the Fraser Valley.

Hakki said, "The focus of AbbyFest is to bridge the gaps and bring communities together. The skydive is another one of our avenues that is being used to achieve that goal."

Last week, with warm temperatures under sunny blue skies, it was a beautiful day for a skydive.

The night before, I was tossing and turning about jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. I kept on asking myself, who in their right mind would do something like that? I would be lying to you if I said I wasn't the slightest bit scared.

Actually, a friend tried to convince me out of doing it all night. I didn't even tell my family about my plunge, knowing they would be constantly praying for my safe return.

But I thought sometimes you have to throw yourself out there and see where it goes.

Well, the afternoon arrived and it was time to celebrate our diversity in the skies at 10,000 feet. What a brilliant idea.

There was no backing down. I arrived at the site a little nervous, but with confident smile. I was directed to the shed to get fitted into a body suit and some quick training

I asked, who am I tandem jumping with today? "Mr. Pain" and you'll see why, a trainer replied with a smile.

Spell that for me, I said with a quivering voice. The same trainer commented, "actually it is spelled PAYNE and he is an experienced skydiver with hundreds of jumps."

I was feeling a bit relieved when Brian Payne introduced himself and we had a brief chat about our upcoming adventure.

He made a couple of important tips in our prep. Keep your arms crossed when we first jump out of the plane. Your legs should be crossed and arms should be extended during the freefall.

He also stressed, I should never touch his hands at anytime and to keep my head up to enjoy the scenery.

With that all in my head and my adrenaline pumping, we were ready to fly. The single engine aircraft piloted by Grant Toews was waiting on the tarmac. Mitch Doucet, one the skydiving instructors was getting out at 3,000 feet.

I took a quick look when he exited. With the plane door wide open in the sky, I could hear the wind howling. Sweating profusely, my life suddenly flashed in front of my eyes.

We weren't even halfway up yet. Well, the moment came at 10,000 feet and Payne told me to turn around, so he could be connected on my back. As we were slowly moving to the open door together, I asked him several times "are we hooked up?'' "Yes", he replied.

A few seconds, later we were dropping over the central Fraser Valley. With a couple of acrobatic flips while exiting the plane, he quickly flipped me face forward to the ground for the 40-second freefall.

Honestly, with the fear factor involved it was difficult to focus on the gorgeous view, being it was my first jump. But overall, the journey was fairly smooth, despite the wind blowing as though we were rag dolls a few times.

Video and cameraman Mitch Dupoint took some excellent footage. It goes fast and in 40 seconds, we had already fallen 5,000 feet at 200 km/hr or 120 mph at 174 per feet a second.

At that point, Payne pulled the cord for the parachute to deploy, totalling about six minutes from top to bottom with a photo finish.

Owner Debbie Harper, who has run the business since 1976, said, "I get to be part of everyone's fun. I see families, moms and dads and whole families coming together. We get to share in their experiences. People come for different reasons. How lucky could I be."

Reflecting on our diversity in the skies, it became apparent that we have much more in common than we think at ground level.

From that altitude, we all look the same and have the same fears. Come out August 2 and support the rest of the AbbyFest jumpers at the Abbotsford Skydiving Centre. Would I do it again?

Absolutely.

- Ken Herar is a columnist for the Abbotsford-Mission Times. Contact him at: kenherar@gmail.com.

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