Mercury reporter takes plunge in first skydive

Reporter Josh Butler's first skydive. Picture supplied by Skydive the Beach
Reporter Josh Butler's first skydive. Picture supplied by Skydive the Beach

With my legs dangling over the edge of a small passenger plane 14,000 feet above Wollongong, having two feet on the ground seems a good option. At 13,000 feet and falling - 12,000 feet, 11,000 - terra firma isn't so tempting as I hurtle towards it at 200 kilometres an hour.

I've thrown myself out of a plane.

My tandem skydive partner is Tony, a tall bearded fella from Oklahoma who has jumped out of "10 or 11 thousand" planes in his 12 years skydiving.

That's "10 or 11 thousand" more than me at this stage, about to break my skydiver-ginity on an otherwise perfectly fine Sunday morning.

The bus ride from the Stuart Park HQ to Albion Park airport is quiet, as the handful of other skydivers silently re-evaluate their decision to hurl themselves into the sky and hope a bedsheet rolled inside a backpack opens in time.

"Skydiving is safer than this bus ride, mate," laughs Kip, another of the instructors.

Tony says a human body hits speeds of 200km/h during the 30 seconds of free fall. On pulling the parachute, we will glide over Wollongong for up to seven minutes. I ask what 200 km/h feels like.

"Ever put your hand out of a car window when you're driving on a highway?" he asks.

"Not much more than that."

Off the bus, onto the plane. Tony explains the parachute has a failsafe, so if something happens to him - such as a terrified journalist headbutting him unconscious as we plunge to earth - a back-up parachute automatically deploys at a certain altitude.

It makes me feel a little safer about trusting my life to a backpack and an American I met only 40 minutes earlier.

The instructors laugh and joke as they buckle themselves onto the back of their tandem partner.

"We're spooning now," Tony says as he cinches us together in a bond I'm hoping is unbreakable. After all, he's the one attached to the parachute. I'm only attached to his chest.

Skydivers drop off the edge of the plane and into nothingness - one, two, three, then Tony is nudging me forward and before I know it my legs are dangling out of the plane at 14,000 feet above North Wollongong Beach.

Later I will watch the footage from the GoPro camera strapped to Tony's hand and see that, for probably 1000 feet, I let out one long sustained proclamation of a word that rhymes with "duck".

We tumble out of the plane, somersaulting before Tony rights us and we plummet face first, arms and legs splayed out like jumping jacks. The freefall feels like a high-thrill ride at a theme park, the only difference being you get enough time to overcome the initial shock of weightlessness and actually enjoy it.

I'm laughing and yelling and hamming it up for the camera, and I suddenly realise why dogs enjoy putting their head out of car windows at high speed.

There's an odd dichotomy of feelings as you plunge. You're hoping for the freefall to never end, but your primal brain is screaming "oh god, this isn't right, please pull a parachute" and all too soon Tony yanks the ripcord.

Tony and I drop and tack and drop and tack and plonk down right in the sand directly to the east of the Skydive The Beach hut.

Tony sheds the parachute and gives me a big high five and asks how it was.

I look him dead in the eye - "let's do that again".


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