View from the right seat

  Jeneal McKinleyOct 30, 2016  

So I’m perusing the internet looking for something for my next article when I see something pop up about a skydiving record being set in Longmont. Odd that I hadn’t heard anything about it.

Once I clicked on it, it all made sense. Seems the record was set in 2011. Sixty nine sky jumpers from all over the world linked in mid air above Vance Brand Municipal Airport. It was their second attempt of the day which turned out to be successful. They formed a snowflake just long enough to have a photo taken.

I did that once, sky diving. Well all but the jumping out of the plane part.

In 1981 there was a terrible mid-air collision between a commuter plane and a sky diving plane over the skies in Loveland. One of the survivors was a young man who had lost his leg to cancer. Hoping it would make a good human interest story that I could sell,  I contacted him for an interview. He invited me along on one of their jumps.

We met at FNL where he hooked me up with a parachute. Holy cow those things are not light!!! After a brief set of instructions on how to pull the rip cord and where the back up cord was located, they loaded me into the plane. The pilot smiled at me and assured me I wouldn’t need to use it, then pointed to a space on the floor and indicated I should sit there.

The rest of the jumpers then climbed aboard and sat along the side of the plane also on the floor. I waited for someone to close the door. The plane started rolling and I was sure that everyone was so busy chatting that they forgot to close the door. Nope. It stayed open. My interviewee explained that when we reached a certain altitude they would each take turns jumping out the door. They would sink quickly so I needed to be quick about watching them.

The pilot would call out various altitudes until he must have announced the right one as the jumpers all stood up and waited along the wall of the plane. The plane seemed to slow down and the divers made their way to the door, my guy being last.

“You’ll have to get closer to the door if you want to see us.” he stated. Then one by one they dropped out of sight.

I sat on the floor with the door wide open.

“You can’t see anything that way.” the pilot said as he rolled the plane so I could get a better look. A better look?? My feet were pointing straight at the ground with an open door in front of me and a heavy parachute on my back. “Can you see them now?” he asked.

“Yep.” I answered meekly.

He invited me to sit in the co-pilots seat.

“This is my time.” he said. “First time in a small plane?” he asked.

I nodded my head.

“Watch this.” he said as he sat his coffee down and proceeded to do a complete barrel roll. Not a drop spilled. It didn’t even move in fact.

He didn’t stop at that. He buzzed a field near the Flat Irons in Boulder. I hardly breathed as I thought about how low to the ground he was and what if his wheels caught on an odd piece of fencing that you couldn’t see in time.

He regained altitude and we headed back to Loveland landing safe and sound. I thanked him for a very enjoyable flight as he helped me remove my parachute.

I finished up my interview with a promise to show my subject my completed story. Unfortunately it was never published. Upon advice of his attorney the story was nixed.

Looking back at it now I wish I would have relaxed and enjoyed the ride. I’m sure it’s not every day that some one gets to ride with a stunt pilot.