After a good night’s sleep, We(students) were driven to the dropzone at Ocana which is around 20km from Aranjuez. After doing the necessary paperwork at the office, I was handed over to Phil my ground school trainer. Phil would teach me everything I needed to learn about Accelerated Freefall (AFF) before I actually jumped out of the plane. On the first day the course began with knowing what AFF is all about, learning about the parachute and other equipments, aircraft emergencies, exit procedures (how to correctly exit the plane) and communicating while on freefall using hand signals. Phil also showed me around the dropzone (dz) and took me to the hanger where I practiced my exit procedures on the plane. Since I was already filled with a lot of new information and jargons, we decided to call it a day.
Emergency procedure was one of the most important parts of the course so we took it up the very next day. Emergency procedures include situations like what if your parachute doesn’t open, what are the checks you have to perform after your parachute opens, cutaways (where you cut away from your malfunctioned main parachute and open a reserve parachute), what if you are going to crash into some other skydiver and crash landings. We did a simulation of the emergency procedure on the ground where I was suspended from a harness, lifted horizontally and shook violently and then showed an image of what my parachute looked like and I had to decide whether it was a good parachute or a bad one and if it was a bad one how to cut away from the parachute and open a reserve. I don’t remember when was the last time I paid so much attention while learning something. My safety depended on these procedures.
After my ground school got over, I sat for a written exam of everything I had learnt. The exam wasn’t very tough and after every answer I wrote was I had to sign beside the answer. This was to ensure that if anything went wrong during the skydives I could not blame the institute for not having taught me. Fair enough. Now I knew I was getting into some really serious territory.
After having a tough time raising the funds, issues with my visa I thought the bulk of my problems were behind me but then that was only the tip of the iceberg. When I was planning for the trip I kept 15 days at hand. I was told that it would take a week for me to finish my course. My course which included of 7 exam jumps and 10 consolidated solo jumps however I kept a buffer for 3 more days, a total of 10 days and the rest 5 days to see Spain. But all that planning was to go out of the window.
After I finished my ground school on the 27th of March 2014, I had to wait for a few days because of bad weather to make my first jump. You need almost perfect weather to make your first jump. Low winds and a bright sky. Some days it would be bright and shiny but with too much wind. Some days there would be no winds at all but it’d be raining or too cloudy. We’d go to the dropzone every morning and wait for the weather to clear but then we’d end up staying there all day and returning home not having done a single jump. Every morning when I’d go to the dropzone my mind would be split up into two. A part me would be pissed off because I would not be able to jump because of the bad weather and another part of me would be happy because I was too scared to jump.
Couple of days going to the dropzone yielded to nothing. It was the 30th of March and still no jumps. It was already around 4:00pm and we were all ready to leave when my instructor Bryn called me outside the hanger and pointed at the sky. I looked up at the clouds and said, “Ok?” and he was like, “Can you see that hole in the clouds? We can jump through it. You want to?” I was like, “Alright let’s do it!!”
In 10 minutes I had worn my jumpsuit, my parachute container and the other equipments. By then the plane had arrived and we made a formation on the ground according to our seating arrangements inside the plane and then boarded the plane. The plane, a Pilatus Porter is a single engine plane that could accommodate 10-12 people. I was to be the last one out of the plane. We all squeezed inside the plane the door closed and we were off. The temperature on the ground was around 8-10deg Celsius but in the plane it was pretty warm. At 8000ft Bryn and I went through the procedures and the plan for the jump. At ~13,000ft the pilot pressed the buzzer which sounded like an alarm. Taanaa naaanaaa naaanaaa naaaanaaaa. I still hate that sound. I still (fill in the appropriate abuse) hate that sound!!! Then the person sitting on the floor near the door opened it. Now like I said it was around 8-10deg Celsius on the ground which meant it was way colder up at 13,000ft and not to forget, the plane was also travelling at ~200km/hr. The cold air hit me so fast and so hard that I took a deep breath and froze. It’s a similar feeling you get when someone pours icy cold water on you. After a couple a seconds I regained my breath and looked down from the door towards earth. The ground was waaaayyyyy down. So so so (again fill in the appropriate abuse) far away. The first thing I told myself was, “Rewat, what the hell are you doing here, why do you even want to jump out of perfectly working plane? You crazy or what? You could have quietly stayed in Bangalore and gone to work.” (It was around 8:30-9:00pm in Bangalore and my shift was about the start). Did I ever think of backing out? Ohh yes I did. I had to make a choice, either I was going to jump out of that plane, land safely and walk proudly to the hanger, or stay in the plane and do the AFF walk of shame from the plane to the hanger. Quickly I thought of the journey so far, how hard I and my friends worked for it, the amount of faith people put in me. DAMMIT!!I’m going to jump. By then almost everyone was out of the plane and I was the only one left. Then Bryn shouted, “Are you ready to skydive?” “YES!!” I hollered back. There was no turning back now. I was on the floor, on the door and out of the plane. People had asked me earlier as to how one breaths when they are falling at 200km an hr? I had no answer. So the first thing I remember after I was out of the plane was breathing frantically. Then I realized, oh it’s not that hard. It’s just normal breathing. My fear didn’t end there. After the canopy opened, I thought, what if the harness rips? No reserve parachute would save me then, but quickly I shouted at myself, removed that thought and enjoyed the view while preparing for landing.
My scariest jump was the fourth jump. Not because I failed and toppled over but because I got lost in the clouds. After the jump and my failed maneuvers, I pulled my parachute and I got my first line twist. (A line twist is when the parachute lines get twisted and you have to turn yourself around to untwist it. Sometimes it happens easily while sometimes you have to cutaway and deploy your reserve). Luckily for me, the line twist straightened out but when I looked around, I was in dense clouds. I could barely see 20 meters around me. After a while I saw a tandem on my right. I was about to follow it, but then it disappeared into the clouds. I heard my radio crackle but I guess due to the cloud interference I could not understand anything Bryn was saying. So I just hung around there hoping to be out of the clouds soon. When I was finally out of the clouds I couldn’t recognize anything below me. I didn’t know where my DZ was, where the runway was or the freeway. Nothing! After a while when I finally recognized my DZ, I was around 2km away and too low to reach my landing area. Attempting it would be plain foolishness because I had to cross power lines and the freeway. So I zeroed in on a patch of green field beside a factory and landed there safely. The institute’s pickup truck came a picked me up.
Unfortunately due to bad weather throughout my stay there I could only jump for 4 days out of my 15 days and could manage to do only 9 jumps. But nevertheless I finished my course and came back home a skydiver. In the end it was one hell of a rollercoaster ride and a huge test of my patience and confidence, especially when I failed two jumps and was running short of time. I had to wait for a few days before I could redo my jumps because of the bad weather where I would just sit and doubt whether I’d be able to do it or not. I guess all you got to do is be patient and take it one jump at a time.
I am still very scared to jump out of a plane but I know that in the end of the jump when you land safely, it would have all been worth it. Like Bryn said, skydiving is more about mental than physical. Your skydive starts from the time you decide to jump where you assess the dropzone, the weather conditions and the wind directions. For every 1 jump I made I jumped a dozen times in my head preparing myself practicing every maneuver. Because, in the beginning when you are freefalling your mind will stop working and your muscle memory will play a huge role in guiding you.
A shout out for my instructor Bryn Chaffe; for me the physical part wasn’t the hardest but the mental was. Every jump, even the last one I was very scared and Bryn saw it. Before every jump he would spend a few minutes with me prepping me up mentally for the jump which really helped to become a skydiver.
I’m not going to write more about the jumps because you can watch the video itself.