Excerpt from CALLING FROM THE SKY
Posted by Elfriede Copple
Today we would like to share another excerpt from our book that was published recently. We hope you enjoy the reading.
The jump would be static line, not freefall, and it would be from a C-130 Hercules flying at only 1,000 feet above the ground. The jumpers were reminded that reaction time for malfunctioned parachutes would be diminished by the lower parachute opening altitude of 820 feet.
On the previous four jumps, Ned and Luke had been the first two to exit on two jumps and the last ones in their sticks on the other two. They were the two highest ranking people in the class, and it was typical to manifest the jump order in this fashion. The order was purposely reversed for every other jump mission so that all jumpers could equally experience moving their heavy equipment bags to the door in the proper, timely manner.
Smiling at Luke, Ned said, “Corbett, both times we were first out, you got out your door before I got out mine. It’s not going to happen this time. I’m leaving before you.”
Stupidly, Luke accepted Ned’s challenge. He replied only with a knowing smile.
The jumpers boarded the C-130 well after dark. It was an engines running onload. Luke was last to walk up the tail ramp on the left side, and Ned Mayfield was last on the right side. This would have them seated on the canvas side-facing seats nearest the left and right troop doors, respectively. Once all jumpers were seated, the Hercules began its taxi to the runway. The roaring, changing pitch of the turbo props added to the excitement.
Upon taking the runway, the big cargo plane started to vibrate and rattle as the pilot levered the throttles forward. Speaking with another jumper was virtually impossible over all the noise—especially since each man was wearing a steel pot helmet.
They were airborne for about one hour before approaching the drop zone. All lights in the rear of the aircraft were minimized to better the jumpers’ night vision. At six minutes prior to exit time, the jumpmaster gave the command “Stand up!” All jumpers stood, their static lines were hooked up to the aircraft’s anchor line cable and they waited for the one-minute-out call, signaling the jumpmaster to give the “Stand in the door” command. Luke’s thoughts were occupied with how to be the first one out of the airplane.
“Stand….in the door!” The jumpmaster gave the next to last command.
Luke, with his feet barely touching the floor, moved himself and the heavy, long equipment bag to the door. Standing in the doorway, he was able to use his knees to lift the bag off the floor and push it out into the turbulent wind from the prop blast and the plane’s 135-knot speed. The bag, fastened to Luke’s harness and whipping in the prop blast, nearly pulled him out of the aircraft. He kept his hands on either side of the troop door, fingers on the outside to help pull himself up and spring himself out and thumbs on the inside, holding him in.
He didn’t focus on the red jump light yet. First, he wanted to see the drop zone below. All he could see down there was total blackness. It was an overcast night, and it was pitch black dark.
Finally, Luke could see the two small green timing lights that marked a perpendicular line just before crossing the leading edge of the drop zone. The navigator used the timing lights for counting off seconds before switching the jumper’s red light to green. This visual indicator was the jumpmaster’s signal to give the final command, “Go!”
Luke didn’t wait for the jumpmaster’s command. He didn’t wait for the green light either. Upon passing over the drop zone timing lights, he’d switched his focus to the red light. Both hands were wrapped around the outside edges of each side of the door, ready to lunge his body out into the air—even if that light so much as blinked!
When he saw the red light go off—not even seeing the green light—Luke leaped out as fast and as far as he humanly could thrust the mass of his body and the heavy equipment bag.
The cool air felt refreshing, and he had that same feeling of freedom that he always experienced when getting away from the violent wind and noise produced by the engines and propellers.
He welcomed the canopy opening shock at the usual three seconds away from the huge C-130. When he looked up to check his canopy, making sure it had not malfunctioned, it was so obscured, he couldn’t see. It was too dark. Everything felt normal. The transition of the high wind and noise a few seconds before to calm and quiet created the feeling of being suspended in total stillness.
He looked down, trying to orient himself to the drop zone. Suddenly, he felt himself bounce slightly, a feeling usually not apparent because the parachute is usually at the mercy of the wind. If the wind speed increases, the parachute simply flows with the air current. The jumper doesn’t feel the resistance, because the parachute travels with the air movement. By instinct Luke looked up to check his canopy again, because he was definitely experiencing an accelerating falling sensation. The only way his speed could have picked up would have been in the vertical direction—down! His canopy must have malfunctioned.
A split second thought flashed through Luke’s mind: Is this one of Green’s tricks?
Looking up into the blackness of the night above him, he wasn’t sure, but it looked like the canopy was distorted from its normal round shape. There was no time to waste! In the jump school training, it was thoroughly instilled into the jumpers never to waste time if there was any doubt. Open the reserve parachute immediately. “When in doubt, whip it out” was the phrase the instructors used to drill it into the new parachutists.
Instead of just pulling the ripcord on the reserve and taking the chance that the reserve might become entangled with the malfunctioned main canopy, Luke used his skydiving training and began a hand-deployment of the chest-mounted reserve. This meant that while pulling the reserve ripcord with his right hand, he held the container closed with his left hand. Then, his next step would have been to throw away the ripcord, freeing his right hand to help scoop out the reserve canopy, hold it with both hands, and throw it out away from himself and away from the malfunctioned canopy above him. This would greatly decrease the chances of an entanglement with the main canopy—a situation that could result in a main and reserve canopy streamer situation.
Pressing the front mounted reserve container closed with his left hand, Luke pulled the reserve ripcord but left the ripcord handle secured in its elastic pocket so as not to lose it. Now the reserve canopy was accessible, and Luke maintained pressure on it with his left hand to keep it from falling out and becoming entangled with the main canopy until he could scoop it out and throw it. But suddenly he saw another jumper descending at a high speed only a little over an arm’s reach in front of him!
“Luke, is that you?” Luke heard Ned Mayfield’s voice, now from a few feet below.
Luke had beaten Mayfield out of the airplane only to have the tech sergeant end up directly above his own canopy. This meant that there was no air to fill Mayfield’s canopy. The pressure that would have held Mayfield’s round canopy open would have been produced as the parachute descended into new air below. However, since Luke’s canopy was already below, Luke’s canopy was using that air, creating a vortex, or an eddy, like a hole in the air—a vacuum. Therefore, Ned Mayfield needed to run off of the top of Luke’s canopy to get away, fall off the side, and find air for his own canopy.
But, when Mayfield ran off, he could not see in the dark that he was running to the rear of Luke’s main canopy, directly into the opening that was cut out in the back of the chute that produces forward speed and creates some maneuverability. Ned Mayfield was now trapped beneath the canopy and inside the lines of Luke’s parachute!
“Yes, Ned, it’s me.”
At that moment, Ned had descended enough below Luke for his canopy to find the air beneath Luke’s canopy and had gotten enough force to open his main. However, Mayfield’s parachute was now using the air immediately under Luke! Now there was no air remaining to sustain Luke’s canopy. He fell below Ned, resulting in the opening of his own canopy again, and then Ned’s parachute lost air. They were in a fatal “seesaw” entanglement on a low-altitude pitch-black night jump!
They were dangerously close to impact with the ground. They both knew from the excellent training they’d gotten that one of them needed to reach out and get a hold of the other’s suspension lines to stop the canopies as nearly side by side as possible. Just as he was thinking about this, Luke heard Ned ask, “Luke, can you get a hold of my lines?”
“I’ve got my hands kind of full here.” Luke was still pressing tight to the opened reserve container to prevent the canopy from getting out and worsening the situation! He knew there was no choice, because Ned’s voice sounded like he had given up.
Pressing the reserve container tightly with his left hand to keep it from opening, Luke reached out with his right hand, grasping for the other man’s suspension lines as they went flying past each other. The force was too great. He felt unbearable pain in his hand as the friction of the nylon lines burned the inside of his bent fingers. He lost his grip.
Loosing your fingers or loosing your life?
What will it be?
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