David Hernandez took a deep breath, thought how he hoped this would not be the last decision he would make and jumped out of the plane, two and a half miles above the ground.
Hernandez, sophomore sociology major, went skydiving for the first time last January. He described the jump as totally unforgettable.
“It’s the best natural high there is,” he said. “Once you get past your first time, it’s just something you’ve got to do again.”
A first-time skydiver in Colorado is required to do a tandem jump, where both the student and an instructor are attached to the same parachute.
“If there’s a problem, the instructor will take care of it,” said Jarred Curtis, a parachute rigger at Mile-Hi Skydiving Center. “All you’ve got to worry about is having a good time.”
Before anyone is allowed to jump solo, he or she must undergo on-the-ground training classes and a number of dives with an instructor. Mile-Hi requires students to take the Advanced Free Fall course, which requires one tandem jump, seven dives with an instructor and an all-day ground course.
Hernandez said he had overwhelming butterflies in his stomach and experienced a mixture of emotions including fear, nervousness and excitement while he was preparing to take the jump.
“I was terrified but I was like, ‘I have to do this.’ I was afraid of losing the opportunity more than I was afraid of losing a body part or my life,” he said.
Curtis said people rarely decide not to go through with the jump once they have boarded the plane.
“Every now and then we have people who get scared, but usually not in the air,” he said.
Both Curtis and Hernandez said the actual experience of jumping out of a plane is hard to put into words.
“The first 15 seconds is the epitome of the jump. After that, you hit terminal velocity (at 120 mph) and you feel like you’re floating. The first 15 seconds is what it’s all about,” Hernandez said.
Curtis compared the sound and visual conditions of the jump to driving in a convertible at 120 mph.
“It’s really hard to describe,” he said. “Your stomach doesn’t drop, like most people think. You feel more like you’re floating.”
Skydiving is sometimes thought of as a very dangerous and extreme sport. However, Curtis said that technological advances have made skydiving much safer in recent years.
“Skydiving in the past was really dangerous, so it was classified as an extreme sport. Really it’s no different than football or lacrosse injury-wise,” he said.
Curtis emphasized that life-threatening problems are very rare and there has never been a student fatality at Mile-Hi. He said that the most common injuries, such as a twisted ankle, usually result from a student’s failure to follow the instructor’s directions.
According to www.ranchskydive.com, skydiving these days is relatively safe. In 1999, 27 skydivers died, whereas lightning killed 48 people. Student deaths are pretty uncommon; experienced skydivers exceeding their own limits cause nearly all of the sport’s fatalities.
Nevertheless, Curtis admitted skydiving is not completely safe.
“You’re risking your life,” he said. “If (your) parachute (doesn’t) work, you’re gonna die.”
Curtis thinks that the perceived danger of skydiving is one of the factors that entice people to try the sport.
“You’re jumping out of an airplane…and the only thing saving you life is a little piece of nylon,” he said
Hernandez agreed, saying one of the reasons he went was that he was intrigued by the idea of playing with death. He also thinks that the prospect of flying captures peoples’ interest.
“Everyone has a curiosity about flight and to experience that is amazing,” said Hernandez, who is currently planning his next skydiving expedition.
Info for possible box:
Mile-Hi Skydiving Center
Location: Longmont Airport
Cost: $189 for one jump
Restrictions: must be 18 and less than 210 lbs
“It’s the best natural high there is.”
“The only thing saving your life is a little piece of nylon.”