How to Jump Out of a Plane and Survive

How to Jump Out of a Plane and Survive

By Don Hall

What does it take — aside from some cash — to commit to jumping out of a plane flying at 13,000 feet?

For a younger person perhaps it’s the desire to seek a thrill or dare to be adventurous. Starting out in life and going out there, challenging yourself, is a necessary part of being young and seemingly invincible. This explains random hookups, experimental drug use, and skinny jeans. 

As you grow older, the choice to strap on the harness and parachute, hop on the plane, fly up into the sky and leap to your possible death contains a bit more baggage. You’re suddenly 30 or 40 or 50 and things haven’t panned out as you expected. There’s very little thrill in your life unless you find cleaning up dogshit from your lawn or desperately finding a way to evict your 22-year old video gaming son from your basement thrilling. So you take a class and get your jump Go-Pro’d so you can prove you did it. 

Whatever the reason and no matter the baggage, it is quite literally a leap of faith. To be fair, getting in your car tonight and heading here was a leap of faith as well — this is the world and no matter how many airbags we have, helmets we wear, inoculations we get, nature is hellbent on hastening our demise at every turn. You could get snuffed out slipping on some ice or choking on a day-old bagel and be just as dead as if you plummeted to the Earth at 95 miles per hour from a plane. But the jump from the plane is more unnerving, isn’t it? 

Now, imagine going up for your first time. 

You strap on the jumpsuit, zip up all the zippers, put on the harness with the parachute. You walk to the grounded plane, the idea of leaping out still a bit abstract. Squatting in the back with eight or nine other jumpers, you feel the plane take off and you’re in the air. And then it’s your time. 

You crawl to the open door, air rushing past at a furious whip. You crouch and see that you are so high up that the ground doesn’t seem to be moving at all but you know that there is now nothing between you and it and your spit dries in your mouth. Your stomach does a somersault and your knees feel like they’re coming undone. One. Two. Three. 

As you fall, the wind going past you so hard it feels like a wall, you look at your altimeter. At 5,000 feet, you pull the egg. 

And nothing happens. You pull again. No parachute. You continue to shoot to the ground like a bullet. Disbelief then panic. For a moment, you are so certain you will die in a few moments you forget about your secondary. Then you reach back and pull that and blissfully, at 3,000 feet, your second chute opens and you land — roughly but whole. 

After that, what could possibly convince you to jump again? 

But you do. Later. You go through it all again. This time as you drop, neither chute opens and at 2500 feet you randomly grab your first lollipop and jerk it hard and it miraculously opens. You break your ankle when you land but you’re still alive. 

Nothing could get you up there a third time, right? You’d be considered an idiot, a moron with a death wish, batshit crazy. 

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I  was a child of divorce.  Unlike most, I was a child of multiple divorces and so, as I started the cycle of falling in love - with girls in high school, with young women in college - I was determined to be married once.  Period.  I gave myself no wiggle room on this - once I said "Til Death Do Us Part" it didn't end until I was dead.

Except I've not been very good at marriage.  Two marriages before I was forty.  Two walks down that aisle.  Two divorces.  At age 42, I was exactly the person I never wanted to be.

With two blazing capital D's on my chest and forehead, I embarked on roughly five years of NOT getting married and becoming the guy I wouldn't let my sister date (if my sister dated men).  Accidentally running into women I'd slept with but couldn't recall their names on the L or in Whole Foods. I went on an OKCupid date with the roommate of someone I had dated two weeks before.  The on again/off again relationship with the very accomplished activist who really didn't like me much.  Women young enough to be my daughters.  By 47, I was even worse than before - I was the very stereotype of a middle-aged divorcee.

And it occurred to me that I was the common denominator, not the women I chose to love.  I was the problem. And so I stopped.  No more falling in love for me.  No more searching for The One.  I simply couldn’t take it anymore.  Sure, I dated here and there halfheartedly but I put almost no effort into it.  I spent most of my time working or working out or reading.  I wrote volumes about my failed relationships.  Giving up has a certain sort of freedom to it.  After 30 years of dating and marrying and divorcing, I dropped any pretense that she was out there.

We met at a storytelling night.  She was backstage, managing things.  I was backstage doing what I do best - talking nonstop.  It turned out that we had been in the same room half a dozen times in the last few years and never met.  “Will you shut the fuck up?” she said and I looked at her for the first time and was completely smitten.

Our first date was lunch at the Haymarket.  We ate, drank and talked and then, as she was leaving, we kissed.

A week passed.  Texts. Emails.  Poetry. The second date, we casually admit in the middle of an art gallery that we love each other.

Our third date, in a conversation about family, and life, marriage, and engagement in general, this happened:

"I've been thinking about what it would be like to be married."

"Yeah...even though I swore I'd never do it again, I have too.  You think you'd want to be married to someone like me?"

"You'd have to ask me."

"Will you marry me?"

"Yes."

I felt the jumpsuit go on over my clothes and I zipped up the front. I stared at the parachute harness in disbelief. What is this again?

A week later, in spite of a twelve-hour trip to Kansas in my Prius as I tried to talk myself out of this improbable THING, my mother gave me an antique sapphire ring - a one of a kind family heirloom - without even meeting her.  “I don’t know how I know but this is her ring,” she said.

Four months later, after she had met my family and I had met hers, we walked from the taxi through the TSA check-in and toward the gate. Seeing the plane was real but the idea of what was to come was abstract. I felt that spit drying in my mouth and I knew that soon I would be squatting in front of that open door. One. Two. Three. JUMP.

We flew to Vegas in September with two of our best friends and got hitched at the Chapel of the Bells which was flanked by an all night liquor store and a gun shop.  It was perfect.  "We’re both pretty good at bad relationships,” I told her.  “Why not try a good relationship for a change.”

Three years and change and we’re still married. Like any couple, we have some ups and downs but we still openly kiss in public, we still hold hands, we still let each other know every day that we are in this together for the long haul. For the first time in my half century, I feel like I got it right.

What does it take to get someone twice burned by a faulty and terrifying jump from 13,000 feet? Love and that’s about it.

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