|Meet The Trees|
by Donna "TY" Doherty - email@example.com
Saturday, October 21, was another gorgeous, warm, sunny fall day. I couldn't get out of work fast enough. I had Boomer, my hubby, and Colleen, our daughter, pick me up and we headed directly out to Orange. It was 1:30 then and we had to have Colleen back for a sleepover birthday party for her best friend by 6:30. We wanted to get a couple jumps in because the temperature was suppose to drop about 20 degrees on Sunday.
As soon as we pulled in I headed to manifest to check the board and see what load I could get on. I found one and then went and checked with the riggers to see if I could take a manta.
My lucky #6 rig was there and ready to go and they said I could take it. I put it aside and checked it over. Everything looked good. I knew Dave was down at Bridge Day so he wouldn't be around and I saw Chris but I knew it was "Reunion" Day with a lot of the jumpers from the Turner's Falls days returning and getting together for jumps so I didn't want to bother him. I just planned on doing a solo and working on turning and tracking since I was so bad at it and it was a very important skill to have if you jump with others.
I was real surprised and thrilled when Chris found me and asked if I wanted to do a jump with him! Cool!! I told him about my jump with Dave and how that went. We decided to work on exits, forward and backward motion with docking, and then the turning and tracking. We went over everything and did some dirtdiving and I was feeling good. Soon it was time to head for the plane.
Since there was only one tandem, I ended up sitting on the floor of the plane up near the front. I was feeling pretty relaxed and good. I wasn't all nervous like usual. This was going to be a fun jump. I could just feel it. I even felt relaxed enough to chat with the tandem student a bit and to talk with Aaron, another recent graduate, who was sitting across from me. Since there weren't the tandems and students as usual I knew most of the other people on the plane and I think that helped, too. Chris was sitting down by the door because he was spotting. In no time at all we were on jump run.
When it was our turn I followed Chris out and really tried to concentrate on my exit. I wanted to get it right. Climbout went good. Nice, easy exit count. Off we went. And there I am spinning around again!! I did see the plane but only for a few seconds before I was turning and spinning around towards my left. I did a complete circle but stayed stable the whole time. I saw Chris in the distance and headed towards him. Just as I started to dock I went up above him a bit. I arched harder and we got even again and I moved forward and docked. We let go and I backed up and then came forward and docked again. Going good!! This is fun!! I checked my altimeter and saw I had plenty of time so did it again. When I checked again the next time I was just below 6000. I should have had time to do one more but while I stopped to think about it I lost time so I then decided to turn and track. We had planned to stop again at 5000 because I get so anxious near pull time that I rush my turn and track and I was hoping that with knowing I had that extra altitude that I could calmly do it right.
I turned good making sure I had stopped turning before trying to track. Chris thought that might have been one of my troubles and I had also been thinking the same thing. I pushed my feet out and down and started forward and then tried to bring my arms back and push down. It felt like I had been taking a while so I stupidly tried to pull my left arm forwarda bit and check my altimeter and that made me bobble a bit so I panicked again and arched and pulled. I should have just kept tracking a few seconds and not tried to check my altimeter. I should have been counting. But my deployment went well and I had a good canopy. I'll try again next time. And when I got to see the video of this dive there was a BIG improvement over the first time so there is hope for me!
I had a great canopy ride down. I worked on some more turns with my rear risers and I actually got one spiral going pretty good for a manta... at least in my mind. You probably couldn't even tell it was a spiral from the ground. I set up my landing and it went as planned and I had an easy stand up landing 8 meters from the X!!! I was psyched!! Just one more accuracy landing for my A license! I was so happy. I felt things were finally starting to click for me and best of all... I HAD FUN!!!! I couldn't wait to jump again!
Later that Saturday, Boomer had finally gotten his hands on the big boy rig and was on a load. He was going to be doing a two way with Leslie, Jay's wife. She was a very experienced skydiver and part of a 4-way team that had just competed in the 2000 Nationals. Plus she was really good at explaining things. She was always willing to help out the newbies and whenever I'd hear her giving advice to someone I'd wander on over and listen in.
I had had such a fun jump I was dying to go again. To make the loads work, manifest had ended up switching Boomer's load with the one after it. With sunset coming so much earlier now, it looked like it was going to be the last load of the day. There were a couple of slots open on it. S/L John (who I now call Big Mouth but who thinks he should be called Quiet Man) asked me if I wanted to do a mirror dive with him. That sounded like fun but I told him Boomer was already on that load and we didn't like to be on the same loads if we could help it because of our kids. He just kind of gave me that shrug and raised eyebrow look of his. I knew what that meant. I found Boomer and asked him what he thought of me going on it, too. He has never really had a problem with it like I have. He said it was up to me.
I started swirling things around in my mind. I did really want to jump again. And it was such a nice, warm day. Tomorrow was suppose to be much colder. And what were the chances of getting another day this nice this late in the season??? I also only needed one more jump with an accuracy landing for my A licence. I could get one more thing crossed off my list. I wandered over to see if there was a manta I could use. There was just one lone rig hanging there. Hmmmmm... just happened to be a manta... and my lucky #6 at that! I was just about to ask Brian if I could use it when this guy tells me he is using it and he's already signed up for the load. Oh well... guess I'm out of luck. Sighhhhhhhhhhhhh.
About 5 minutes later as I'm still wandering around I hear Jay tell that guy, who happened to be a student, that he was going to have to scratch him from the load because it was getting too late and that load was ending up being a sunset load and past the time permitted for students to go. Awwwwwwwwwww poor guy. I wait the obligatory 2 seconds to be polite and then ask Jay if I can have that rig then. He says, "Sure!" Then he asks me if I want to do a jump with him since he is now free. I tell him I'm already planning on doing a mirror dive with John. Jay says we can make it a 3 way! I'm thinking he means a 3 way mirror dive so I say OK and tell him I'm going to go ask John about it.
I go out and tell John and he is fine with it. Jay comes out and wants to go over the dive. He starts talking about it and I realize he means an actual 3 way with docking and turning! I don't know if I'm ready for this. I mean, I haven't even done a real 2 way yet, just the coaching dives! Jay tells me to relax... it's just for fun. He will keep it simple and if it doesn't work out... no biggie. It's all in the name of fun! He does tell me if I'm uncomfortable to just say the word. It's up to me. I'm feeling good and self-confident after my last jump so I think... What the heck! Be brave! Do it!! Give it a try!
Then he starts talking about the exit. He says he and John will climb out and then I will reach up and grab onto each of their chest straps tightly. I will give the exit count. Push them out on Ready. Pull them in on Set. Then out we go!! I was to just dive out, keeping my feet up on my butt and my arms tight and close so they don't get outstretched and I'm being pulled. It didn't sound too complicated but I felt weird doing it. That was something the "real" skydivers did. Not me!
We practiced it a bunch of times until we had it down good. Then we went over what we were going to do on the dive. If all went well with the exit we would be in a circle holding hands. (Forgive me if I'm not using proper terminology here because I know nothing about relative work yet. I will have to start reading up on it.) Then Jay would nod and John and I would both let go and turn towards Jay with me taking a grip on his left arm, while John took a grip on his right arm. Then Jay would nod again and we'd let go and they would both face towards me and Jay would grip my right arm, while John took my left. Then I would nod (I was excited about this part!) and we would all let go and Jay and I would face John and take grips on his arms. Then John would nod and we would go back to the circle. At 4,000 we would turn and track.
We dirt dived it a bunch of times and I thought I had it down pretty good. It was fun practicing it. Again I felt like a real skydiver. I saw the whuffos watching us and I imagined that they thought I was actually a good skydiver!! Ha!!! We went and got our gear on and then went through the exit and dive a few more times like that.
We had talked to Colleen about us both going up together and she was fine with that. She wanted to make sure she got to go on the drive out to the bowl to pick us up so we arranged for that. We gave her a kiss and headed out to the plane. It felt weird seeing Boomer on the plane, too. Jay, John and I would be going out first so we got on the plane last. Jay was sitting right next to the door as he would be spotting. I was on the floor across from the door and John got the nice little seat all by itself in the very back of the plane. I had just gotten settled when the pilot called back that he wanted John and I to switch places. Cool!! I had never gotten to sit there before. It was nice and comfy and you had a great view out the door. John and I got rebuckled up and off we
I was a little nervous on takeoff as that's when there would be the biggest danger of Boomer and I being on the same plane together. After we reached 1000 ft. I relaxed a bit. That's the minimum altitude you can jump out if the plane is going to crash. Boomer was on the other side of the door so we were both in good positions to get out quickly! And I had been thinking about the fact that both Jay and Leslie were on the same load together, too. By 1500 I had relaxed even more and by 2000 I felt safe (Well you know what I mean! Not safe exactly... but "safe"!) The rest of the flight was nice. Ron, another friend of ours from our FJC, was also on the plane. He was trying out his new rig for the first time and was excited. It would be his first BOC pull (BEER! :o) and Colleen had spent the day helping him practice it.
The sky had been pretty clear all day but all of a sudden a layer of clouds had rolled in. There were some big breaks in them and below 7000 ft it was clear so we thought we should be OK. I had thought I'd be really nervous about doing this 3 way but I wasn't. My last dive had just been so much fun and I was very comfortable with Jay and John. I was a little worried about crashing into each other but I knew they would be being extra careful because of me. John tells me to relax... it was going to be a fun dive.
All of a sudden the plane takes a sharp left turn onto jump run. Sitting where I was it gave my stomach a little flip!! Wow!! Jay has the door open and is hanging out. I've never been first out before. I give myself a once over and get ready to get into the door as soon as they climb out. They head out and I get in position and hold onto their chest straps. (I had asked them if didn't that worry them?? Someone hanging onto their chest strap?? What if it came undone?? They told me they weren't worried but I said I was never letting anyone do that to me!) Anyway, I hang on and give the count and out we go. And we tumble and flip and roll around and over! Wheeeeeeeeeee!! I had expected everyone to just let go and then get stable and try to come back together but I guess not! I'm a little scared at first but then realize I'm OK and try to relax and go with the flow.
We lose John, and Jay and I tumble a bit more. After John leaves I expect Jay to let go but he has a death grip on me! At one point I kind of bounce off his back. I had thought that would be scary and you'd hit hard but I guess because we are together it is just real gentle and I just push off with my other hand. At first I'm thinking, "Let go so I can get stable!" Then I remember tumbling on AFF jumps and being able to stable out with 2 together so I arch hard and we finally stable out. We fly along as a twosome and then see John off in the distance. I look at my altimeter. It says 7,000. We try to get closer to John but run out of altitude. We break off, turn and track. I open my chute and look around.
Where the heck am I???? Everything I see in front of me looks totally unfamiliar. I turn to the right looking for the airport and there it is. It takes me a few seconds but I finally realize I am southeast of the airport. I've never been on this side before. And I realize I am quite a ways away!! I had never once looked down during free fall like I had been taught! I see another canopy down below me. It is obvious that they aren't even attempting to get back to the DZ. They are going to land off. It doesn't even dawn on me at that time that it was Boomer I was watching. (He had ended up having a very snively opening so was low). I'm just not used to seeing him in the sky with me!
I head directly for the airport and put my arms all the way up. After 15 seconds I realize I'm not making hardly any headway at all. This isn't even going to be close! I think I'm going to have to land off. No. I KNOW I'm going to have to land off. I quickly scan the area below me and in front of me. I see water, trees, and Rte. 2. Shit!! No good alternate landing sites. If I could get closer to the DZ there are a few fields that might be possibilities but the only ones I'd want to try to land in are at the edge of the airport and I know I won't even make it close to there. There really are no good options that way. I glance around in the other directions. Far off to my right is a huge field. At least that's what it looks like from where I am. I was thinking it was directly downwind of me and it seemed like I should be able to make it.
Geez! I can't believe this is really happening to me!! I'm scared but not as panicked as I thought I'd be in this situation. Being panicky is NOT going to help. I just need to deal with it because it obviously IS really happening. Then I thought of my newsgroup friend, Rita, who just sent me a book of her jump stories and I remembered her talking about landing off on her AFF jump down in Florida. She was crying softly and swearing she was giving up the sport if she just got down safely. She managed OK. If Rita can do it, so can I! (And she didn't quit skydiving... was right backup in the air the next morning!)
I turned in that direction and could tell I could get down near the field. I was thinking I just had to stay this side of the field until I got down lower. That was a big mistake. The wind was actually coming more from the west than I realized. I should have realized this sooner since I had been east of the airport and couldn't make much penetration that way. The sun was down behind the clouds so I wasn't getting any help there in figuring out the wind direction. I just didn't seem to have a good sense of direction on this side of the airport because I wasn't used to being there. At least these were the excuses I was telling myself. By the time I realized my mistake and tried to get more west of the field it was too late. I was madly hanging on my front risers trying to get more that way but I wasn't making enough progress.
I was now headed towards the street (with power lines!) or the houses and other buildings at the edge of the field. There was a very slight chance I would make it over the buildings to the field. I debated trying for it. Using the accuracy trick I could see it would be close. I also knew there was a chance I'd get a gust of wind coming into land and then I would definitely land on the buildings and/or street. I knew from trying for the X on previous jumps that where I thought I would land sometimes changed right near the end due to a gust of wind or sudden absence of wind. I decided it was too risky.
I was now running out of time and altitude quickly. I needed another landing area. I desperately looked around trying to find something.... ANYTHING! Downwind of me there was nothing but forest. Tons and tons of trees! (And I used to think they were beautiful!) I saw one house with a tiny yard. I briefly thought of trying for it but the yard was really small and I figured there would be power lines to deal with in there somewhere. What else is there?????? I can't believe this is really happening! It looked like I was just going to have to head into the trees.
Just then I saw a path through the woods!! Wow!! Maybe I can get down in there! I squinted my eyes to make sure it wasn't a path cut for power lines or something. Nope. Don't see any poles. I just might be OK yet!! I head for the path. I'm getting down real low now. I make it to the path and turn above it. I then realize I've just turned down wind! I feel my speed pick up. I'm going too fast to land down there! And I'm not even sure if my canopy is going to fit between the trees. It's not a very wide path. Maybe just big enough for a vehicle to fit on. I'm flying a big manta. If I get caught on the trees on the side going this fast I'm going to get creamed! I quickly decide to try and turn the opposite way. I know the dangers of low turns so while I have my canopy in half breaks I lower the left toggle even more and start my turn. I realize I'm not going to be able to make it all the way around to the opposite direction. I'm just too low.
I resign myself to landing in the trees. Amazingly I'm not petrified. I just do what I know to do. I keep my canopy in half brakes. I put my hands in front of my face and turn my face to the side. I keep my forearms together in front of my neck and chest to protect them. I put my legs in a PLF position and bring them up a bit to help protect my femoral artery. And I go crashing in through the trees.
All of a sudden the crashing of branches is replaced with silence. I am not going forward any more but gently swinging back and forth. I look around to see that I am hanging from a tree branch still high off the forest floor. I hear some creaking and cracking and realize my branch is about to break. I look at the tree I am in. It is a pine tree. A DEAD pine tree. A BIG, dead pine tree. All the other branches are long gone. I hear more cracking. I look for something to grab onto. There is the trunk of the tree I am hanging from. It is about 5 feet away. On the other side is another pine tree. This one is very much alive with lots of branches... but they are all out of my reach. The closest one maybe 4 feet away. My heart is racing because I know I'm in a bad situation. Yet I am also joyful that I am alive and unhurt so far.
I debate the idea of getting myself swaying again a bit so that maybe I could get close enough to the trunk of this tree or the branches of the other tree and grab on. But I also know that the minute I swing this branch, it is most likely going to break. I don't think I can get enough momentum going to reach one of the trees before the branch breaks. And even if I make it to one I don't know if I'll be able to hold on. What am I going to do if I manage to get a hold of the trunk??? I was never good at rope climbing. How the hell am I going to be able to shimmy down a tree trunk?? But I suppose that's better than just falling straight down! If I manage to grab onto one of the other pine tree's branches they will just bend or break and I will fall, too, but hopefully it will slow my fall a bit. I decide it would be best to just stay VERY still right now and hope for help to come. MAYBE the branch will hold. Though I doubted it. I look up to the sky and tell Kelly, my daughter, that if she is up there watching, that her mom could sure use some help about now.
I look down at the ground to see what my chances looked like if I were to fall. Not good! I am high! Really high up!! There is a stump and some other logs I could hit. It's a LONG way to fall. I'm going to get hurt... and hurt bad probably. The best I can probably hope for is a couple of broken legs. Just please don't let me get paralyzed. That thought scares me. I just need to be able to jump again someday. And hopefully not in the too distant future. If I have to get injured it is actually not a bad time. I can heal over the winter when you can't jump much anyway and jump again next spring.
Just then I heard some voices. (No, not in my head!! Real ones!!) I get all excited!! People from the DZ are coming to save me!! I knew they would! I yell, "HELLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!" I hear a return hello and I breathe a sigh of relief! I keep yelling out so they can find me. I tell them to hurry because my branch is going to break. I can hear it creaking again. I'm almost afraid to breathe... never mind yell. But I also want them to hurry up and find me! Finally I see someone below me. It's not someone from the DZ but some strange man. He asks me what I want him to do. SHIT!!! Doesn't he know???? Isn't he "my knight in shining armor" come to save me??? I tell him I need to get down quickly before the branch breaks. Can he call the fire dept. or something QUICK??!??!? Just then I notice 3 young girls coming. He says he will leave them with me while he goes and calls the fire dept. I had been hoping the fire dept. was already on it's way!
He takes off and I say Hi to the girls. I tell them not to stand right below me as I know the branch is going to break any minute. (I'm not good at judging distances but later the guy told me I was about 30 feet up. Boomer pointed out 30 feet to me afterwards and I have to say I felt like I was higher than that though that may have just been my perception. I hope to get out and see the tree again soon and find out.) The girls tell me that the branch I'm hanging from is pretty big and they think it will hold. I can't see it all that well because the risers are kind of twisted behind my head and forcing me to look downwards a bit. I'm afraid to stretch and try to see because it may be just enough movement to snap the limb. I tell the girls it may be big but it's dead. Figures, of all the trees in the damn forest I land in a dead one! They tell me it's not dead. They can see a little green here and there on it. I start believing them and get some hope.
I see one of the girls pick up a branch and move it out of the way. I tell them that that is a great idea and it would be a big help if they could move some of the other logs and branches laying underneath me. They quickly start moving them and I can see that they are happy to have something to do to help. They finish and I tell them to make sure they aren't right under me. They tell me there were a bunch of others landing out in trees, too. I then remember Boomer!!! Oh, shit!! I hope he is OK! I wonder who else is out and hope they are all safe.
All of a sudden I am hurtling down towards the ground!!!!!!!!!!!! Oh, nooooooooooooooooo!!!! I hadn't even heard the branch make a sound. It gave no warning ahead of time. I don't have any time to try and fling myself towards the other pine tree and maybe catch a branch. I don't even have that much time to be scared. I feel something tug at my left foot (one of the canopy lines? Kelly?)and it kind of tips me over onto my back and upside down a bit. (Geez... flashbacks to my cessna jump!!) CRASH!!!!!!! I go smashing into the ground on my back.
My first thought after I land is that I'm still alive!! My second thought is... I CAN'T BREATHE!!!!!!!!!!!!! Fuck!!!! (Sorry,John, I tried... just no other word expresses it right) I CAN'T BREATHE!!! I gasp for breath and try to take some air in. It's just not working. I keep trying but to no avail. I see the girls looking at me and they are scared. They tell me to just stay still. I'm wondering how quickly in sign language can I explain to them how to do CPR if I can't ever breath. My back is killing. I keep struggling trying to get air. Finally, after what seems like an eternity, I feel a little go in. I keep fighting for it and eventually I get a little more air and then a little more until I'm breathing pretty normally. Whew!! Just had the wind knocked out of me. Being an EMT I had been thinking of all serious things like punctured lungs or cardiac tamponade.
I gratefully breathe in more and more air. Ahhhh breathing never felt so good. My back is in major pain. I get nervous thinking I broke it. After the fall I just took,I should have. I wiggle my hands and toes. Everything feels and looks OK. No tingling. No weakness. No pain in my arms or legs. I feel relief course through me. Just then I look up and see Chris!! I have never been so happy to see someone!! He asks how I am and has me press with my hands and feet. My back still kills but I'm doing much better. I think I might be OK. He asks me if I want to try and roll towards him. I ask him if he thinks I should. He says, "You tell me." The EMT in me thinks I should lie still until an ambulance comes and gets me. The wife and mom in me wants to get the hell out of here and find out how my family is! Chris hadn't heard if they had found Boomer yet. Poor Colleen is alone at the DZ with her parents out missing! I needed to get to them.
I decide to try and roll on my side and see how it feels. My neck feels fine. I do have a headache but I didn't think I hit my head all that hard plus I had a helmet on. Good old Protec...worth every penny of the $40! Chris helps me slide the harness off and then roll onto my side. I'm still in pain but it's not any worse. I don't think anything is broke. I am amazed that I fell that far and seem to be OK. I figure that landing flat on my back on my pack must have saved me. I think the first part of me that hit the ground was my upper back right where my reserve parachute was. Man, was I lucky!!! I decide to try and walk out. Chris gently helps me up. I headed out with my entourage.
Besides Chris and the 3 girls, there was also another man and woman plus the original man who found me. I got to use an old skydiving line on them though as they were talking about why anyone would jump out of a perfectly good airplane. I replied, "You haven't seen our airplanes!" They laughed at that so I guess they haven't seen "Cutaway" yet. One of the guys tells me I'm not the first one to land out in these woods. He then says he knows Gary Pond who's been skydiving for 20+ yrs and he's never landed in the trees. (Gee thanks!) I finally made it out (and found out along the way that my path that I was trying for was not flat.... it was a hill!) I managed to get into Chris' car although I was very uncomfortable. On our way back to the DZ we ran see a truck with Boomer and Colleen in it who were out looking for me.
Boomer had landed in some trees, too, but at the edge of a small clearing and he just crashed down through them. He came in hard and scraped up his shin and banged his tailbone and was a bit shaken up especially after coming close to power lines and after seeing a big stake in the ground near where he landed. He had thought I might have been high enough to make it back and kind of freaked when he found out I was missing. He was really scared because it was quite a while before the people from the DZ knew where I was. One of the first things he said to me was, "No more. That's it. We are through." Like I believe that!!
We found out that Ron landed in a bog. When he landed his feet got sucked down into the mud and stopped while the rest of his body kept going. He landed on his face but luckily his Protec protected him, too. His new gear got a little messed up but would be OK. Some person came along and gave him a ride back in a canoe. He said it was an adventure. That's how I like to look at my jump, too. Leslie ended up almost making it back and I heard she landed in the grassy center of the exit ramp of Rte. 2. Scary... but she was fine. By hanging on his front risers the whole way John ended up making it to the field at the edge of the airport. The tandem and Gary who did their video both made it back OK. (But I later found out that Gary had looked before he leaped and knew we were screwed and corrected the spot.) Jay's son told Boomer that Jay landed on the X.
Colleen was a little shook up but handled things well. We felt really bad that she had been put in that predictament. Not knowing where either of her parents were or if they were OK was scary. I assured her I was fine. She was now late for her birthday party so I had them drop me off at the hospital while Boomer took her to her friend's party. People at the hospital were kind of shocked to find out what had happened to me. We didn't go to the hospital right near the DZ, we went to the one near our house about 20-25 minutes away. I guess they don't normally get skydiving injuries. A few were interested but most seemed to think if I was stupid enough to do something like that, what did I expect! I got my x-rays taken and nothing was broken. There was some blood in my urine probably from one of my kidneys being bruised but when I had it rechecked a few days later everything was fine.
The next day I felt like I got run over by a herd of elephants so I just layed on the couch all day. Boomer had gone back up to Orange to pick up our stuff we left there and Chris gave him a copy of the 2 coached dives I had made with him and I spent the day watching that over and over again. (Boomer also told me he went to check out that field I was hoping to land in and he found that the top part of it was ok but that the first part was really rough and full of stumps and stuff and there was quite a bit of barbed wire dissecting it.) I spent most of the next week on the couch, too but each day felt a tad better. As soon as I can arch and run I'm going jumping again!! I still need that accuracy jump. Since I didn't even land in the same town, never mind closer than 20 meters to the X, I guess I can't count that last one!
Jay was very worried about us and called to check up on us and sent me an e-mail that I loved. One line said, "SHIT HAPPENS but usually after a lot of jumps. You and Bernie are just moving faster than other novices(ha ha)." I told him that's because we had such an exceptional instructor! Shit does happen and all I know is that I'm OK, I learned a lot and I had a great adventure!! Isn't that what life is all about?
To see picture of dz and surrounding area from air got to http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Estates/7810/orange.html
For more stories see pages