An unforgettable skydiving experience

Harsha Raj Gatty vividly describes his experience of sky diving in Mysuru…

I am not sure exactly, when it was the first time I dreamt of jumping off a plane... But I vividly remember that since my 20's I have intentionally skipped the opportunity whenever it presented itself. Theparalysing 'fear of heights' or even possible death while performing the stunt always made me back off…..

Despite my fears, the thought of skydiving never died. Such thoughts revisited me or were reinforced in my mind especially when I came across adventure shows on television or reading stories of the dare-devils.

Now, with barely a month to go before I turn thirty - I finally decided to take the 'leap of faith' and conveyed the same to my family. Obviously, at first they were taken aback, for they equated it with a 'Death-Wish' and initially refused consent –but I have my own methods and persistent prodding did the trick!.

Consent was followed by online research for skydiving institutes in Karnataka. I zeroed in on one in Mysuru, given its proximity to Mangalore. I quickly called them up and made a routine enquiry - naturally I was a little surprised to know that a tandem-jump (instructor jumps along with the skydiver) costs Rs. 35,000. For a moment, I wondered if it was worth it, but then passion overcame my hesitation. I decided not to take the vacation I promised myself to compensate for my indulgence as my family called it!

I immediately contacted the agency and confirmed my participation. I was asked to report at the Mysore airport on April 28th. Since, then for about a month, I was both excited and feared anticipating the consequence of my first tandem-jump attempt. I started doing online research, browsed for suggestion tips or testimonials from the previous divers or anything to calm my anxiety, however none of these eased my mind – In fact it only got worse.

Finally, the D-day arrived, I opted for an eight-hour bus ride from Mangaluru to Mysuru and again I admit that throughout the journey I was trying to figure out 'why exactly am I doing this to myself?'.

Early morning, I got down at the Mysore Suburban bus stand and directly headed to the Mysore Airport and reached at around 9am. For reasons best known to the aviation authorities, the airport caters solely to VIP flights, after commercial flights were halted. A helicopter was on a standby, but otherwise the entire airport and its facility bore a deserted look. Besides the Cessna that we would use for the sky dive and the five odd personnel including the maintenance staff - there was not a soul in sight.

At the entry, an agent of the skydiving team welcomed me to the airport premise and we had a general chat on how about how they would organize the jump for the day.

I learnt that besides my jump, there was a family of four that were also scheduled to jump into the dropping-zone. But everything would be possible only if weather and the machine supported the plan.

After a 20-minute wait, an approximately six foot tall bald headed guy turned-up and introduced himself as 'Pasha'. He was a former soldier in the Russian armed forces. He said that this was probably his 18th year conducting the jump and he doesn’t even recollect the number of people who have flown with him. Those words reassured me to a degree – at least I would be in the hands of a veteran sky diver.

Before actually going up, I was required to complete the required paperwork which included signing a liability waiver on a bond paper which specifically stated that I wassolely liable for the risk of undertaking the tandem jump and the organisers are not liable in the eventuality of my death or injury. As I put my pen to paper, I was reminded of the of the 2014 incident wherein a 26-year old woman died while skydiving. But having come this far, I was not about to back out and appended my autograph!

For the next 20 minutes, as we waited for the crew to fuel the Cessna, Pasha gave me routine final instructions about the flight, tandem-jump and three different positions that I need to take once we dive from the aircraft. I was specifically told that mostly it will be non-verbal communication (shoulder tapping), as the wind would kill any communication or sound during the high-speed descent.

While wearing the jumpsuit, I was also informed on the safety-catches in the equipment and that there was a reserve parachute, should the main fail to open. I was surprised to know that parachutes these days are digitally embedded. So apparently, a sensor will activate the parachute on its own (without human aid), even if the instructor failed to open it on time, should he be unconscious or incapacitated due to certain reasons.

In any case, Pasha and I were soon up in the air. The Cessna is a small aircraft meant for four people. It is not the ideal flying option. It made this scary loud rattling noise. We were seated on floor, which I guess is a normal thing during such short adventure rides. But as a beginner, I must admit that I was intimidated by the noise and the small aircraft - so much so that I almost forgot about the greater risk that lay ahead - for a while.

The flight soared quite high, and I got fine aerial view of Mysuru. Soon however the view disappeared below the clouds as we soared above them. Pre-flight I was told that we will be jumping-off at about 10,000 feet, but the flights ascentseemed to on and on. Fearing that the aircraft would continue to climb into nothingness, I wanted to tell the pilot I was ready to jump, but better sense prevailed. I became nostalgic and philosophical. Side effects of flying high I guess!

My reverie was broken by gruff heavily accented Russian English of Pashawho said "Slowly come towards my direction and sit over my leg,"...Though we were just three of us on board, it was quite a challenge to manoeuvre oneself aboard the small aircraft. Somehow, in a seated position, I dragged myself towards Pasha and sat on his lap like his little kid. Pasha quickly, connected my safety harness to his own and asked me to carefully shift myself towards the open exit-door of the plane - which I obediently did and also placed the safety goggles over my eyes. My legs dangled outside the plane.

For the next few minutes, there were no words spoken exchanged between us. Pasha could sense my nervousness and continued to reassure that the jump will be fine, but somehow I couldn’t rest easy. I was too worked up. After a few more silent nervous moments, Pasha suddenly asked, “You ready?" My answer hardly mattered so high up in the sky so I meekly responded in the affirmative. “Yes” I shouted but it was like a whisper in the wind!

"Huh", Pasha - the sky diving instructor sighed heavily sighed. He switched on his sports camera on his wrist, put on his goggles and made a ‘thumbs-up sign' to the pilot. It didn't take a genius to realise what that meant.

I could sense the instructor bowing towards his front and automatically even I leaned forward and before I could realise anything else...

Head-first I saw myself plunging into thin-air or rather 'nowhere'.

I am still not able to describe the feeling of this free-fall. The speed of the unstoppable fall is a memory I will cherish. It gave me a rush like none I had experienced before. The clouds passed by me right in front of my eyes. I could reach out and touch them, but I was speeding downwards and I missed the opportunity. Though I expected a 'stomach-drop’ akin to the sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach one gets during a roller-coaster ride or on a giant wheel, it never happened. I did however feel a head rush during the first three seconds of the jump.

Meanwhile, as instructed pre-flight, I changed my hand and head position twice during the free-fall and aftera certain distance, Pasha asked me to hold the shoulder strap in a brace position and then he suddenly opened the parachute. I felt a small jerk, but the cushion on the shoulder star was excellent it reduced the impact of the abrupt jerk.As the speed of the fall broke, I was told to shift my leg strap so that I continue the fall in a seated position though this was a little tricky, I managed to do so.As we glided down further, I could see the airport drop point more clearly and see almost the entire area around the airport as the parachute sailed slowly downwards.

The instructor took some quick right and left manoeuvres so that we land right on the drop zone. With barely 100 feet to go to hit the ground Pasha suggested that I raise my legs horizontally so that we could land gliding over the grass patch, which in fact we did without any injury or turbulence.

In a matter of 3-5 minutes, my first tandem jump came to an end. Once on the ground, there was this sense of achievement of doing it. Mission accomplished! Although, it’s almost a month now since the jump, the pictures and the video of the jump provide me and others an opportunity to relive my 10,000 feet fall time and again.

No more fear of heights or for that matter heightened fear!.


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