Tasting death in Abita Springs, La.

Ezra Weber, Senior Staff Reporter

Never in my life had I tasted death so truly. It came to me in a mouthful of rushing wind, and I licked my lips, cackling hysterically as I plunged in a free fall towards an empty field in Abita Springs, Louisiana. 

“There is not now, nor will there ever be, a perfect parachute system or packer, a perfect airplane or pilot, a perfect parachute center or instructor, or for that matter, a perfect student,” the bushy-bearded inventor of tandem skydiving said in a rather grim introductory video. 

I watched from the small trailer that made up the entirety of the Gold Coast Skydivers facilities with my three other jumping partners as Bill Booth explained, “Each of these devices, people and corporations, all necessary for you to make a tandem jump, are subject to malfunction, failure to perform as expected or required or to human error. Unexpected weather conditions may also arise.” 

My two instructors stood in the corner smirking, their respective death wishes written clearly in their wild eyes. I dressed in large purple parachute pants and a full body harness and waddled over to the mystery machine-colored Cessna 182. 

As he was explaining the jump, my instructor directed me to sit up against the “metal tombstone looking thing” next to the pilot. Slurping up adrenaline and sniffing fear, our instructors would not stop making death jokes. I was jumping with one other person, and we squeezed into the puddle jumper with our two instructors. 

Mesmerized by the blinking dashboard, I watched intently as the pilot lifted us into the air, enjoying this never-before-seen perspective of the mechanics of flight. 

Suddenly the plane’s door, immediately to my left, rushed open and my face was pummeled with flowing air. My eyes grew wide at the vastness spread out below me and my instructor chuckled at his cruel prank before sealing the door once again.

We were approaching our jump height of 10,000 feet and the pilot allowed me to grab the steering wheel, directing me to push and pull and turn and dip. The plane obediently followed my motions as we coasted through the air above dotted trees and droplet lakes. 

It was time. My otherwise settled stomach now started to bubble over with anticipation. My instructor secured my body to his, placing my life in the hands of a few durable carabiners. The plane door opened, but this time it would stay that way. Per his instruction, I stepped out onto the small platform on the wing of the plane and squatted. Gusts of wind slapped my body, filling me with a riveting, buzzing energy I have never before felt. 

Before I could put two and two together, my instructor tipped us over the edge into a freefall. As we barrel rolled through the air, I saw the plane disappear above me, and pure euphoria washed over me. High on adrenaline, I screeched with laughter as my body cascaded towards imminent doom. As we tumbled, arms at our sides in an aerodynamic position, I felt nothing short of a total sensory overload.  

Two minutes and many hundreds of feet later, my instructor pulled the ripcord, instantly halting our free fall. The harness yanked at my legs and the parachute opened up above us in a fluttering red-and white-striped canopy. 

As we floated down to earth, I felt as if I was removed from my body. Seeing the world from above without the friendly confines of an airplane was an entirely overwhelming experience. The trees, just little specks of nothing, rose up to meet us, gaining form and dimension as we approached. Just a few hundred feet off the ground now, my instructor directed me to hold my legs up in a sitting position once we neared the earth.

The field, previously impossible to distinguish amongst the wide expanse that had been below me, was reaching out to greet us. I lifted my legs and we slid into our land. For a brief moment while the instructor was detaching himself from my harness, I sat in shock. The ground underneath me felt foreign. The sky above me felt like a dream land. A part of me did not return from our dive but remained floating above the clouds.

Just minutes after landing, as I removed my purple pants and harness in the trailer, my jump felt lifetimes away. All of a sudden I was the same again, and it was as if nothing had ever happened. But, looking up into the air where I had just fallen from, a shimmering sense of wonder blossomed in me. 

The t-shirts for sale in the trailer quoted Leonardo da Vinci, “Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” It couldn’t have felt truer. 

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