Unforgettable moment

ANGELA CROMPTON
Last updated 05:00 05/01/2014
Skydive
Skydive Wanaka

The small plane took 25 minutes to climb up to 3600 metres over the drop zone. And then reporter Angela Crompton was out of the plane and free-falling back to earth. It was a Christmas gift that filled a long-time wish.

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It's a very long way down

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Feeling work weary? Apply for leave . . . the sky's the limit when you're on holiday.

I sent those words in a cheeky email to work colleagues after my Christmas break. And although normally camera-shy, I posted with it a photograph a tandem parachute master had taken after he had pushed us out of an aeroplane.

The 3600-metre tumble (that's 3.6 kilometres or 12,000 feet) fulfilled an often-repeated wish during previous visits to Wanaka.

So often while visiting family members, I had watched parachutes floating in the sky and dreamed aloud: "Wouldn't that be great?"

But my stomach had squirmed when Allan, the love of my life, announced his Christmas present to me was a sky-dive pass. Was I brave enough to put my life on the line?

Marius Van Der Walt, a tandem jump master employed by Sky Dive Lake Wanaka, helped me find the courage.

We met after another assistant had helped me into a flying suit and fastened a body harness around my shoulders, chest, waist and thighs. I was in for an exciting time, she assured me.

Marius led me to a narrow plane where we joined two other parachute pairs and a couple of solo cameramen. Sitting behind me astride a bench seat, he secured a long soft hat on my head to cover my ears. A Google search tells me it was a "Frappe hat", originally made in France, and named after the French word meaning "strong impact".

"Skydivers," the reference added, "have a dark and twisted sense of humour worldwide."

The Sky Dive Lake Wanaka team showed that to be true. As the plane climbed into the sky, one of the tandem masters lamented the previous night's heavy drinking session. In fact, he said, he hadn't stopped until 6.30am and he hoped his stomach wouldn't empty out during the jump.

A second airman kept repeating how nervous he was feeling and asking if he really had to jump out of the plane.

A pre-jump video shown to customers had warned us of such antics as a way of easing first-time jumpers' fear. I should have been feeling lots of that but instead I chose not to think about what lay ahead and concentrated instead on views from the window.

As the plane circled upwards, there were gods'-eye scenes of Mount Aspiring, Mount Cook, Lakes Wanaka and Hawea and the brilliantly-blue Clutha River winding its way between patterned pastures.

After a 20 to 25-minute climb, the man in front of me suddenly pushed open a wide exit door and jumped out of the plane. Next a female customer and her tandem partner had gone.

Oh no, I'm next.

"Are you ready?" Marius asked, then told me to grab an overhead bar and pull myself towards the door.

"Nooooooo," I wanted to scream, but our shackled harnesses had turned us into one and I obeyed his instructions to bend back like a banana with my head on his shoulder. As we fell into the air, the world below was enormous and yet far, far away. Our 200kmph free fall lasted just 45 seconds, yet became an unforgettable moment in time.

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- The Marlborough Express

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