Some travel writers will go to any lengths to get
their story, while a dumb few will occasionally opt
for altitude instead.
We would be parachuting over Holland and we’d have
to hurry to beat a nasty squall that was coming in
over the North Sea.
I was the last of the military style jumpers in line
out of the aircraft and when the jumpmaster slapped
me on the back and yelled ‘GO!’ I leapt clear of the
aircraft, brought my feet and knees together, tucked
in my chin, and held onto my lunch-box size reserve
chute in front of me.
Next I began my four-second opening count sequence,
beginning with ‘one thousand one’ as I had been
taught to do in preparation for the drop. The
umbilical cord-like static line that was still
attached to the airplane pulled open my main chute
just after ‘one-thousand four.’ There was an audible
pop and I was jerked skyward as the British military
round parachute deployed.
“Lovely,’ was the first thing one British Army
paratrooper said he always exclaimed when his
parachute opened and he realized he wouldn’t fall
several thousand feet at 200 miles per hour into the
“Lovely?” I asked.
“I’m trying to stop swearing,” he admitted. “One
time on a jump strong winds like these came in and
were cursing at the bumps and bruises we were taking
on landing only to find a group of shocked school
children and teachers staring at us dumbfounded from
the viewing stands.”
“Stunned the bloody hell out of the wee
wankers!” said another
“The little lovelies,” said the first
soldier correcting the second soldier.
“I can tell you several of our officers
were offended at our language as well.”
“And you got in trouble?”
“A whole lovely lot of it!”
“And that’s when you began substituting
whatever for the word lovely?” I said as the
Brit smiled and nodded.
“Covers a multitude of sins, doesn’t it?
‘Lovely Me! You’re full of lovely, Son-of-a-lovely!
Up your lovely! You’ve got to be lovely kidding me?’
And so on, doesn’t it?”
I agreed it did.
With a stable parachute I quickly went
through my visual checks to make certain I had a
round canopy, the apex was open, and there were no
problems with the parachute’s modification panels.
Once done with the equipment checklist, I scanned
the sky around me looking for the other jumpers
while I reached for my steering toggles to control
my glide and descent.
To my immediate concern the jumper who went out of
the airplane ahead of me was having trouble with his
parachute. His parachute lines—the risers—were
twisted behind his neck and it would take a few
moments for him to bicycle kick out of the tangle
before he could regain control of his chute.
I was flying right towards him so I
pulled hard on my right steering toggle and slowly
turned away to avoid a dangerous mid-air collision.
‘Lovely,” I said to myself as the British Army
parachute turned in a slow, lazy motion that took me
safely out over the fertile farmlands below.
1,500 feet beneath me lay a sea of green farm fields
lined with the cold, dark and murky canals that
separated the drop zone from the farmland. The
surrounding North Sea was gray-black and roiling as
the storm was moving towards us in the distance.
Because I was the last jumper out of the
plane and had steered away to avoid a mid-air
collision I now had further to go to get back to the
drop zone only there wouldn’t be enough time. I was
still well over the farmland on the other side of
the canal as I watched the ground hurriedly coming
up to greet me.
I could see the airfield’s windsock
rippling in the high winds telling me which way I’d
need to face when I made my approach to land. 500
feet before I was to land I turned back into the
wind to slow my descent. Not that it did much good
as the wind was moving me along at a good clip. It
would have to be a backward running parachute
landing fall, provided I cleared the canal below me,
didn’t get stuck in the mud and tangled up in my
parachute and drown in the harness.
The Jumpmaster had warned us to avoid
water landings just as he had warned the soldiers
not to land on the Autobahn when they were
Germany. “You don’t want to drown nor do you wish to
be a hood ornament for a BMW.’’
I was clear of any highways but I was
being pushed by the winds towards the canal.
‘Lovely,” I said again.
Stealing looks to the ground racing
below me under my left arm I realized I wouldn’t
clear the canal. With few options left I pulled on
my right steering toggle, turned back and ran with
the wind and immediately picked up speed. I would
clear the canal. Making another quick adjustment,
still close to the waterway, I turned back to face
the wind to prepare for my landing. It would be a
hard hit and I knew it.
“Lovely,” I whispered, gritting my teeth
as I slammed into the landing zone with all of the
style and finesse of a bag of dropped ham. The fall
knocked the wind out of me and for a few brief
painful seconds I was sucking air as I rolled over
onto my knees trying to stand. I needed to quickly
get to my feet and race around my canopy to collapse
it. However, the wind had another idea.
A sudden gust filled the canopy just as I got to my
feet. The inflated chute lifted me up and off of the
ground, slammed me face first into the landing zone
and bounced and dragged me for a good forty yards
before I managed to reel in one of the risers to
collapse the chute, temporarily.
Another strong gust sent me bouncing on my knees and
chin for another ten yards before I was able to grab
another riser, yank on it until I finally came to a
less than graceful stop, spitting grass and debris.
From the Dutch sleigh ride I had grass stalks coming
out of seemingly every opening in my body. I felt as
though Genghis Khan’s fattest and most experienced
horse cavalry had tromped on me.
“You okay? You get your story?” one of the Brits
asked while I managed a weak smile, grunted and gave
a shaky thumbs-up.
“Lovely,” I said.