Helicopter jumps are brought to you today with the word cold. So I’d arrived, had a drop zone orientation, done a regular jump, lost my helmet and found my helmet. It’d had already been quite a day. The helicopter was an hour or two late as the weather was preventing take off.
When I arrived I was shocked to see something so tiny. I was expecting full on Lynx helicopter. This was a bubble with rotor blades. The pilot got out, then proceeded to take the doors off. The doors themselves cost £8,000 each, so he was quite keen we didn’t tread on them or fall over them while we were having a look around.
He warned us not to wave as we approached the helicopter, or to jump up as we jumped out – or we’d be, essentially, toast.
We all wanted to look cool and hang off the skids underneath – the main aim for any skydiver is to get great photos recording the moment!! So we all had a practice with the heli on the ground. It seemed pretty straightforward- if a long stretch- to climb out and onto the skids but everyone warned us it wasn’t so easy at 6,000ft with the blades going like the clappers above your head.
We were put in lifts of 4 – all the chopper would hold after the pilot, and Catherine and I were going to be first out. We sat in the back either side of jumper 3, while jumper 4 sat in the front with the pilot.
Taking off was great fun – we weren’t strapped in and were just holding on to a strap handle on the roof. The guy in the middle was instructed to hold on to us to stop us fallling out. The pilot tipped and rotated as we took off – the view was incredible. It took a very short time to get to altitude – maybe five minutes. But with no doors on in October it was absolutely freezing. Despite being pretty apprehensive beforehand, I was keen to get out so I could get down and get warm!
The jumper 4 in the front gave us the thumbs up after the pilot gave us the nod and it was time to clamber out. Not so easy when the skids were a few feet lower than they had been on the ground, and you had to get out sharpish and ideally at the same time as your jump buddy to avoid the helicopter going unstable.
I could stand on the skids but while I was working out exactly how I was going to hang off them, I felt the helicopter give a little shake. I took that to mean the pilot needed me to get off, so I let go and did a less than graceful back flip off into the dead air below. I asked the pilot later and was told that the wobble was Catherine dropping off on the other side.
We’d agreed to track (or move) away from each other so we didn’t collide. I’d seen Catherine and tracked right. The few seconds after dropping off were different to jumping from a plane – it’s been described as being more like a BASE jump. The air was still and didn’t whip you away.
The wind was pretty strong and after I’d opened and worked out where I was in relation to the landing area, I realised I wasn’t going to make it back. No problem usually at Netheravon – the landing area is huge and the hazards minimal. Here I was with the following option : woodland, a building, the runway, or a relatively tiny field. I aimed off for the field. Heading towards and into wind landing, it was looking pretty tight, when I spotted power cables going diagonally across the field. I’m not a fan of swearing unnecessarily but it felt justified in saying the f-word on multiple occasions.
By luck I managed to avoid the power cables by about 3 metres. It wasn’t the prettiest of landings either and I felt like throwing up for a good ten minutes afterwards. The ground crew came to find me – it was still two fields and two farm gates to climb before I made it back to the road.
Catherine booked to do a night jump and I’d been keen in the morning but after landing off I didn’t fancy landing off in the dark with no idea where all the hazards were so I stayed to watch the others. It was cool to see them all with glow sticks and torches strapped to them, so I will definitely do that next!!