Monday, 20 May 2013

The Eagle Has Landed! My 13,000ft Sky Dive Experience...

It was a gorgeously sunny and calm day yesterday afternoon on the south west coast of Wales. 13,000ft above sea level, somewhere above Swansea Airport, I was sitting hunched up in a 'plane, ready to free-fall back to Earth!

As I have mentioned already in this blog, I was doing it to raise money to buy defibrillators for our rural communities here in mid-Wales as a part of the British Heart Foundation Cymru's two-year £200,000 appeal.

I was also doing it in memory of my Dad Lance Cole who died 10 years ago next month and who survived open heart surgery when I was a child.

The Jump
As eagle-eyed viewers will have noticed, my jump had been postponed twice the previous weekend due to poor weather but this Sunday, it was thankfully, 3rd time lucky!

I arrived with Alyson at 4pm yesterday afternoon at Swansea Airport where we were joined by one of her best friends Sarah and also my brother Stephen, sister-in-law Anthea and their children Seren, Jacob and Mared who were on their way home to Pembrokeshire from a weekend in Cardiff. We were also latterly joined by good friends Nick Tregonning and Claire Waller. It was great to have them all support me and Alyson during the coming hour!

For on our arrival we were told that there would likely be a 45 minute wait until my turn to take instruction. This didn't worry me and I was quite happy to wait a while. Suddenly, within a matter of minutes, the public announcement system called 'John Cole' back to reception to say that they could squeeze me on the next flight!!

So it was that I was given a crash-course in everything I needed to know (which, because I was doing it tandem with a qualified instructor, wasn't much!) and within half an hour of arriving on site, I was jumping into the 'plane with another 3 'students' and their instructors!

It was a leisurely, relaxed ascent to the spectacular height of 13,000ft where, because of the beautiful weather, we could see right across Swansea Bay. It was a majestic setting.

So how did I feel? Well for one who isn't keen on heights, surprisingly relaxed...up to a point! The whole thought of being thrown out at that height wasn't worrying me all that much. What? How come you ask?! Well because in my own head I had long prepared myself for it by suspending the reality of the situation and exchanging it with the logical reality of what was about to happen. I had at the forefront of my mind of course the memory of my Dad and also the hundreds of people who have so generously donated to my appeal to see me thrown out in the first place! So backing out was not and indeed was never an option. So in that regard, I already knew I was going to do it and it was just a matter of getting my head into a place of ease with what was about to happen.

Yet whilst throwing yourself out of a plane isn't a normal every day occurrence (unless you were my instructor Mick who answered my question in the 'plane of his experience with the throw away response that he had done "over 3,000 jumps"!!), I just logically moved myself to the place which said that for these experts, it actually really was. There are normally it turns out between 20-40 jumps a day each weekend in Swansea when the weather allows and I've never heard of one there having gone wrong! Indeed, a friend who sponsored me who had himself Sky Dive'd before told me that he was told on his day that the safest thing statistically that he would do that day was the jump - he was more likely to have an accident on the road getting to or from the airport or in the plane on the way up, than he was on the descent! For a logically minded chap like myself, these were good statistics!

So it all helped me to prepare myself for what was to happen and to allow myself, as much as possible, to enjoy the ride without becoming over-run by a complete fear and panic on lift-off!

The only issue I did have as I was waiting to leave the 'plane at 12,000ft, were to remember the hastily arrranged instructions that I had been told just minutes earlier on the ground. 'Head back, chest out, legs back and crossed at the a banana'. Oh, and when tapped on the shoulder by instructor Mick, to let go of the straps and to wave to the camera!! Easy hey!!

Thankfully, the logical side of my brain kept the thought of panic in check and on being hauled out to the edge (and just to compound matters, as well as being the last into the 'plane, I was the first out!!), I just readied myself to remember these few basic, simples instructions.

The Free-Fall
The free-fall was surreal! We were apparently dropping for some 40 seconds without a parachute at the rate of 125mph. It was going so quickly that I almost couldn't take in the enormity of the numbers. It's like flying in a plane at 30,000ft when you know that you're travelling at around 600mph but because everything is so far below you, it feels as if you are serenely gliding across the sky!

The Sky's the Limit!
The rush was incredible but I was indeed able as instructed to enjoy the fall, lift my head up and wave and 'thumbs up' to Ant our similarly free-falling camera-man!!

Then at around 6,000ft, the parachute was deployed and it was quite a 'pull-back'. Then all-of-a-sudden, we were just floating down gently on what light wind there was back down to Earth. Mick did some turns which gave a great panoramic of the wonderful Gower Peninsula and I could just take it all in after the rush of the free-fall, before we made a perfect landing (with my legs hitched up high to allow Mick to take the hit as instructed!).

It was over so quickly. Indeed, when I landed and met up with everyone who had to come to watch, I found to my amazement that it was only 4.50pm! It had all been done and dusted in less than one hour!

Would I do it again?! Oh come on folks...hell yeah I would! But having said that, I'm not one to push my luck and will happily give others an opportunity to go first before I go again!

The Fundraising
But what it all meant was that everyone who has so kindly sponsored me to the tune of over £4,200 (which rises to over £4,700 including Gift Aid), have indeed got what they paid for! Indeed, I'm told by Ant that he has some 70 still photos of the fall as well as the filmed DVD which I paid for. They will all be sent to me in the post hopefully by this weekend but in the meantime he has sent me this one photo that you can see here. Not the most flattering photo in the world maybe - but when you're flying at 13,000ft, some things just have to be taken on the chin!!

Thank you most sincerely to everyone who has donated so far and if you haven't yet done so (or indeed, are happy to do so again as many have!) then please donate here at the link below to help me reach a final grand total of £5,000 before I close the appeal on Friday 7th June.

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