Every few years, Craig likes to spice up our relationship by attempting to assassinate me. For my 21st birthday, he “thoughtfully” arranged for me to swim in a tank full of sharks (they were tame, apparently). Fast forward to a Wednesday in November 2014; Craig woke me from an afternoon nap to inform me he had booked for us to go skydiving in Queenstown. Two days hence, I would be plummeting back to earth at 200mph, whether I liked it or not.
Friday morning arrived and I was feeling…fine. I mean, obviously we weren’t actually going to jump out of a plane at 12,000 feet. That would be madness. Lunacy.
Still, we assembled at the offices of Skydive Paradise bright and early, and jumped in the minivan for the 45 minute drive winding along the shores of Lake Wakatipu to the air strip. Continuing with the charade, we then suited up in rather fetching boiler suits, a natty little hat and some (rather flimsy) plastic goggles. I think we can all agree this is a good look for me.
Suited and booted, I met my dive instructor who would be ensuring we arrived back to earth in roughly the same configuration we departed in. His name was Mauricio and he was a charming Brazilian chappy who had recently delivered Benedict Cumberbatch back in one piece, so I figured I was in safe hands. Also, I know what you are thinking. I’m strapped to the same straps as Benedict Cumberbatch was. We have shared a skydiving instructor and are now basically best friends.
Whilst distracted by this happy thought, Mauricio led me to the plane and with minimal protest I clambered in. It was… small. I wasn’t exactly expecting leather recliners and a cocktail tray (although they should definitely do that), but this was the size of a bobsleigh.
After some manoeuvring, six of us (three jumpers and three instructors) were safely installed and the plane took off. After 10 minutes or so of admiring the views as we climbed high above the lakes and mountains, a little red light came on, which I eyed curiously. Then the light turned green.
“Why is that light green?” I asked. No reply. Then the plane door opened.
“WHY IS THAT DOOR OPEN?” “Why are you edging my husband out of the plane??” I screamed silently.
Craig looked nervously back at me from his perch at the edge of the plane. “Love you” he mouthed before disappearing. I’m ashamed to say I did not reply. The last thing he saw was me staring back at him in mute horror – where did he think he was going??
Without delay Mauricio then swung me out to the edge of the plane. The ground lay like an intricate ornate rug, roughly 4km below where my feet dangled. Just as I was forming a very strongly worded protest, my stomach climbed into the back of my throat. We were falling. It was too late.
The 45 second freefall (before the parachute opens) went something like this:
Seconds 1-10: Mute horror. Confusion. Odd feeling in stomach, possibly migrating to underpants. Not breathing.
Seconds 11 – 12: Recalling that “if you can’t breathe, try screaming”. Excellent advice.
Seconds 12 – 20: Deafening Mauricio with the loudest scream known to man. Inhaling (it works!) and repeating.
Second 15: With gentle coaxing, you allow your arms to open into the classic “flying squirrel” position. Continue screaming.
Seconds 20 – 25: Realising you are really falling quite fast. Increase in volume of screaming.
Seconds 25 – 30: Open eyes. A cautious look down at the ground. Repeat screaming at increased volume.
Seconds 31 – 45: Acceptance of imminent splat to earth. Start to enjoy sensation of falling amidst the most beautiful scenery in the world.
Second 45: Parachute opens. We swirl and glide around, marvelling at the mountains and the turquoise lake below us. Mauricio chuckles and says “welcome to my office” and I consider decking him, because my old office was in a basement, before remembering he is in charge of the parachute. We drop gracefully to the air strip and Mauricio brings us in to land without a scratch on us.
The “official” photos and video for the skydive was just too expensive for our budget unfortunately, but we (cunningly) made friends with someone in the jump group before us and filmed each others landing. I’m afraid you’ll just have to imagine my face as I was thrown out of the plane. Think “terrified horse in boiler suit” and you aren’t far off though.
I’m still waiting for Benedict to call…