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‘I’m going to take you down’ – tandem skydive





31 July 2016


Tandem free fall with Skydive Cape Town

After my skydive, a lot of people asked me what the experience was like. Extremely enjoyable is the short answer to that one. But there’s no doubt that the question I’ve been asked the most was: “Weren’t you scared?”

Was I scared? Honestly, no.

Perhaps it’s a faulty gene or maybe it’s enough that Skydive Cape Town’s well-run operation left me feeling secure. I didn’t even experience the adrenaline rush that I was looking forward to.

I have been on an adrenaline high only once, after bungy jumping at the age of 16 and I had expected that at least. But nope, no rush. However, I do give skydiving 10 out of 10 for being a thrilling experience that I would love to repeat, multiple times.

I put my lack of fear down to mountain biking. I’ve been gut-wrenchingly scared after some narrow misses on the bike that could have seen me go over what feels like a cliff edge, although in reality it’s a steeply graded slope or smallish drop-off. Learning to block out that fear and ride on was probably a good training ground. Maybe the threat of injury also feels more imminent when you’re closer to the hard ground. From 9 000ft, the height at which we exited the plane, it’s not worth considering – not for about five minutes anyway.

Skydive Cape Town, under the helm of Mark Bellingan, run a safe, efficient and friendly operation. They use only the best equipment (one set of kit for a tandem skydive, made in the USA, including chutes and harnesses costs $17 000 – roughly R270 000) and their four planes are serviced regularly in compliance with the Civil Aviation Authority regulations. As Mark commented, “We only use the best, there’s no point taking a risk with safety”. Newspaper clippings on the wall show people including royalty and our own 100-year-old Georgina Harwood who all seemed satisfied, and with their 100% safety record, I felt relaxed and optimistic.

Mark introduced me to the tandem master, Scott Mac Millan, who was going to jump with me. Scott helped me into the harness, checked and tightened the straps and then after the obligatory briefing and thumbs up pose for the camera, six of us climbed into the little Cessna 206, behind the pilot. The flight was unlike anything I’ve experienced before – no “chicken or beef ma’am?” With only one seat for the pilot, it felt a bit like a sky taxi. The vibe was happy and relaxed and as the plane climbed steadily for about 25 minutes to reach 9 000ft, I lapped up the experience.

When we hit 2 500ft, two of the young guys from Skydive Cape Town jumped out individually to do what they call a ‘hop and pop’. From that height I’m guessing that they would have to open their parachutes straight away, so no free fall fun for them, just a training exercise.

We continued up and I could see the hills of Durbanville to the south-east (where I mountain bike) and to the north, the coastline winding its way up to Langebaan. Looking in a southerly direction, I spied Table Mountain. On this perfectly clear summer day, the view was wonderful.

Scott had a calm, reassuring presence and I liked the fact that he explained what he was going to do a couple of minutes before he did it. At some point he informed me that he was going to attach my harness to his and then later just before the jump he reminded me what he’d told me on the ground: to lean my head back as we exited the plane.

When it was time to go, the other tandem master opened the hatch and out he and his prey, uh, nervous tourist, went (she ended up loving it). Scott and I scooched forward and I had a brief look down before we jumped. This is the moment that I expected the primordial instinct to kick in and for my gut to shout, ‘No!’ Surprisingly, I felt an exhilarated ‘I was made for this and I’ve been waiting for this moment all my life’ instead.

Then out the door for a 200km/h free fall from 9 000ft. The free fall lasted for about 25–30 seconds, although it felt longer. My eyes took a moment to adjust. It was like my brain was taking in what I was seeing and working out how to respond, all in a second or two. My eyes told my brain that I was falling and my brain replied, “Duh, you just jumped out a plane for fun. This is what is meant to be happening – it’s all good”. And it was.

The free fall was, without a doubt, the best part. Scott was steering using his arms and we did a quick loop-the-loop straight out of the plane and then it was on to the business of flying (technically, falling).

The air rushes past your face, the view is magnificent and the sensation is gorgeous.

Scott opened the parachute at about 5 000ft, at which point I thought, “Now for the boring part”…thinking back to the sedentary experience of parasailing behind a boat in Greece, which is much like floating on the spot.

However, I was wrong. The view and the sensation continued to be fantastic, we weren’t floating but descending gently at about a 10th of the pace of the free fall.

“Put your head back again, I’m going to open the reserve chute as the first one didn’t open properly,” said Scott. “Okay,” I replied and before I could really think about it I felt the upward tug of the reserve chute being opened. Then I watched our original parachute flutter off into the distance.

Surprisingly, still no adrenaline. Had I been in control of the chute with an unsuspecting journo strapped to me, it may have been a different story.

As we drifted down we chatted a bit, smiled for photos and then he brought me in for a perfect landing.

“I assume that doesn’t happen often?” I asked owner Mark Bellingan afterwards as I stood in the drop zone. “No, not at all. While we rarely have to use the reserve parachutes, your experience shows that the equipment and training is effective when the need arises,” he replied.

I’m chuffed I had the experience, it makes my story a lot more unusual and it also means that statistically, it is highly unlikely that you’ll have the ‘pleasure’ of enjoying the reserve chute like I did.

As I left, Mark waved me off with “be safe on the road.” Hmm, what an apt salutation. It’s far more dangerous on our roads than any form of skydiving could ever be.

Words Elise KIrsten Photos Scott Mac Millan

Cost R2 000 for a jump and an optional R600 for video footage and still images (or R400 for video or still images).

It’s well worth the cost if you consider the expertise of your tandem master, the pilot, fuel for, and maintenance of, the plane and the use of the pricey skydiving equipment.

The video is almost a must. It is a wonderful way to relive the experience and to share it with friends and family (just not your mom). Here is a 30 second cut of our video.

Where About 10km past Melkbosstrand, Cape Town.
GPS 33°38’48.0″S 18°28’13.8″E

For more information visit www.skydivecapetown.co.za

Visit www.para.co.za to find a list of drop zones in South Africa.