LAUREL, Del. Almost a dozen jumpers in full flight gear sit in
the enclosure marked, LOADING AREA, JUMPERS ONLY, as a squawky
voice interrupted a Tom Petty song on the radio: Five
minute call for Flight 17.
|Lewis Gershen, president of College
Park Skydiving Crew, jumps out of a plane. Jumpers fall at 120 mph.
College Park Skydiving Club|
All sound is then drowned out by the twin-engine plane taxiing down the
runway to the loading area.
Skydive Delmarva in Laurel, Del., is the proving ground for one of the
most unique student groups on campus, the College Park Skydiving Crew.
Crew members board the plane with the jumpmasters and other divers. The
plane is designed strictly for skydiving; the interior is stripped. The
only seat is for the pilot. The divers sit on the floor with seat belts
attached to their flight suits from a track that runs along the wall of
The seat belts are released as the plane reaches 10,000 feet and the
divers put on their goggles and helmets. The plane climbs rapidly, reaching
13,500 feet in about 16 minutes. They would jump from a higher elevation,
one of the jumpmasters explains, but extra oxygen is required to breath
above 15,000 feet because the air is too thin.
A jumpmaster shouts door! and lifts the plastic door to reveal
the patchwork of the ground below. The creaking of the plane is immediately
drowned out by the roar of the air rushing past at 80 mph.
At 13,000 feet, the jumper approaches the door of the plane and does
a hotel check, where he performs audibles, setting a cadence
for the jumpmasters to read. Check in, check out, prop, up, down,
the jumper says. Taking a single step to the left, the jumper then enters
There are two types of jumps available to first-time skydivers. A tandem
jump is ideal for someone who only plans to skydive once. The tandem jump
is $165 for crew members.
During a tandem jump, a harness is connected from the jumper to the jumpmaster.
The jumpmaster pulls the ripcord and steers the parachute to the landing
site; the jumper is simply along for the ride.
Accelerated freefall level one, or AFF, is a little more
expensive and includes an eight-hour training session. There are six more
AFF levels which require a few hours training each.
The AFF 1 jumper pulls his or her own ripcord and there are two jumpmasters,
each holding on to one side of the jumper during freefall.
The scariest part is walking into the doorway, said Lewis
Gershen, the crews captain. After you step out of the plane, youre
not scared any more. All your fears go away. All your stress goes away.
All that's left is adrenaline.
The jumper falls at 120 miles per hour, dropping 1,000 feet every six
or seven seconds.
Theres no sensation of falling, it feels like youre
floating, or flying, said Bill Spangler, an instructor at Skydive
Delmarva. Its the closest youll ever get to flying.
When the altimeter on the jumpers left wrist reads 5,500 feet,
the jumper reaches down with his right hand and pulls the ripcord located
on his right hip. The jumpmasters on either side immediately disappear into
the blue sky below as the roar of the 120 mile per hour wind is quieted.
The jumper enters a peaceful descent and steers the parachute to the landing
A one-way radio aids the jumper in maneuvering the canopy to the landing
site, although students are trained to do this without the radio, in case
A perfect landing means hitting the ground about as hard as jumping off
a single step.
A common misconception, said Spangler, is that skydiving is dangerous.
Although skydiving is not a forgiving sport, Spangler maintains
that, statistically, it is much safer than driving.
In more than 4,000 jumps, Spangler said he has only had to cut
away, or resort to his reserve chute, three times.
The most common type of malfunction is line tangles, where the lines
of the parachute are tangled like a swing that has been wrapped around a
pole too many times.
These generally work themselves out and are not serious, Spangler said.
The crew, which has about 60 members, was founded in fall 1998. There
are no requirements to join; students, faculty, alumni and friends are all
The crew dives several times a month and members can jump at the reduced
rates at any time. The drop zone is about two hours from campus.
For further information, go to the crew's webpage at www.inform.umd.edu/Student/Campus_Activities/StudentOrg/cpsc,
or contact Lewis Gershen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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