12,000 Feet and Falling

by Harriet Mills

I had been in Australia for just over two weeks so I was firmly in the relaxed, travel state of mind when my Dad asked me if I wanted to do a skydive over Airlie Beach, the Whitsunday's, and the Great Barrier Reef. It sounded enticing so my straight answer was a prompt yes. This occurred on our first day of five in Airlie Beach and as time progressed my nerves began to rattle me. My sister had always been the daring one, but now I had placed myself in the position where I had to befriend my adventurous side.

The day of the jump was soon upon us and I woke feeling surprisingly OK and calm. I wouldn't be launching myself out of a plane 12,000 ft above solid ground until 3 p.m., which gave my nerves plenty of time to kick in, which they did. It was a clear day, so the certainty of my jump was fixed. As soon as the taxi came to collect us and take us to the centre, my stomach felt like a piece of rope to which two hands clasped tightly onto squeezing it and sweat coated my hands so that they were slippery to touch and I was thankful that my adventure involved falling as opposed to holding on. On the outside I was grinning, but inside my feelings were total terror.

During the brief training I received and the safety procedures that we went through, I wasn't really paying attention because I was overcome with panic as I watched the skydivers who went before me jumping from the same height I would soon be at. They were small dots falling from the sky, and you could just see them clearly when their parachute opened. I watched as the experts packed our parachutes so quickly that I wondered if they had forgotten a vital factor and hoped it didn't happen with my parachute. It didn't help that one of the men going up in the plane with me was utterly full of himself yet petrified at the same time. He claimed he had done everything; land, sea and sky, but when I looked at his face as soon as the plane set off with us in it he looked terrified, which made me more so.

The plane was the smallest I had ever been in by far. It rattled as it left the ground so that if my stomach wasn't already unsettled enough, it definitely was now. It shook as we flew up, up, up into the sky, past the clouds, to a height where the circularity of the world came into view. It didn't help my fear when, as we were almost half way up, my instructor told me to pull the red lever, which I did in absolute stupidity because I was so nervous I couldn't think clearly. The door flew open and he quickly shut it, laughing hysterically at what I had just done. Looking below, there were scattered islands everywhere set against a clear tropical sea; I felt as though I were experiencing a painting. This took my mind off my fear for a few seconds - but it soon returned.

The time came, I was first to jump, and this time the door was opened by my instructor at the correct time. One moment I was sitting there, legs dangling at 12,000 ft out of a rattling, floating tin can which claimed it was an aircraft, and then, suddenly, I was free falling at one hundred and forty miles per hour down, down, down. My mouth filled with the taste of air as if oxygen levels were falling and I needed a buffer in an extra lung that I didn't have. For the first three seconds or so, my stomach flipped over multiple times and it felt like my body parts had detached from one another and I was completely weightless, my torso falling separately from my arms and legs. But after the initial shock, I somehow came back together again. The view of tropical Australia below was stunning and I marvelled that I could see it while I was falling freely. The jolt that I felt when the parachute had successfully opened reassured me, and I gasped in amazement as I witnessed the scenery at a much slower pace, a pace at which I could take it in. It was then I acknowledged that I had just jumped out of a plane – and survived.

When I reached the ground in sheer astonishment, I watched to see the other man as he landed. He had refused to wear the trousers provided because he thought himself a professional, and thus the instructor made absolutely sure that he would land on his backside. Congratulated by my instructor, and quite smug about the man's failed landing, I retreated to the hut where my Dad was standing, Both of our faces radiated glee, having just witnessed and performed an experience that I would always remember and never thought I could or would do. At that moment I realised my sister is not the only one who has a daring side.

Harriet Mills is a YSJU undergraduate of Creative Writing and English Literature from Suffolk who began writing with a blog following her exploration of the east coast of Australia. She uses an unrestrained and accessible style, influenced by Dawn O’Porter’s blog. Her specialism is speculative non-fiction. 

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