When adventure goes wrong
I’m what you would call an adventure junkie. I’ve traveled to third world countries, jumped off cliffs, snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef and more. I’ve always thought of adventure as it is defined in point #1 on Dictionary.com: an exciting or very unusual experience. However, this past weekend I was faced with the reality of why it can also be defined as point #3: a bold, usually risky undertaking; hazardous action of uncertain outcome.
A group of co-workers and I have had plans to go skydiving for months and as the day approached nervousness was not an emotion on my radar. I’ve done this before and was purely excited. We arrived for our 4 p.m. appointment and the sky was hazy, but still clear. As we were filling out paperwork a storm moved in so we waited a good while for it to pass. Finally, the radar showed we were in the clear and three of the five of us suited up and prepared for take-off. As we were getting on the plane, I looked on the horizon and saw a few storm clouds. Nervously, I eyed my instructor and asked if we were okay, I was assured all would be fine, so I boarded and tried to stay positive.
A normal jump is 13,000 feet, but as we reached 8,000 we were immersed in clouds and the sky was dark. In a hurried furry the pilot told our instructors it was time to jump and with limited instruction I found myself on the edge of a plane staring into a completely cloudy abyss. I knew this didn’t feel right, but trusted in what I thought was a reliable company that they would not send us on a dangerous mission to risk our safety and their reputation.
Falling into a storm cloud is an experience that is difficult to put into words. Imagine the thickest fog you have been in and multiply it by 100. I wasn’t sure what was up, down, what way I was falling, what direction I was turning and I quickly became nauseous. My instructor did the best she could to not show her fear, but as more time passed with zero visibility she started to voice her concerns saying, “we need to get out of this so I can steer” and “I just need to get us out of this cloud”. Finally we emerged into the open, but by this time the wind had taken a complete 180 and we weren’t going to make it back to the landing strip. “I’m sorry, but we’re going to land in that cornfield,” my instructor told me.
As we were landing the downpour started and the hail soon followed, but once on the ground the reality of what we had just experienced began to come out. My instructor has been jumping 16 years and has over 10,000 jumps under her belt, but as she hugged me she told me this was the worst condition she had ever jumped in. When we returned to base, emotions flared and many were angry that we were allowed to jump in the first place.
This video of my friend Maria, who jumped with me, illustrates the experience. Notice the storm clouds in the background of her beginning interview and the actual jump at the 2-minute mark. The photographer lost Maria immediately, but continues to film his journey through the cloud. Compare this to Kristin’s video who jumped after the storm had actually passed and the reality of our visibility becomes very clear (or hazy, as the case may be).
In the end, thanks to the great instructors, we all landed safely and got vouchers to go back and jump on a clear day. I plan to continue to live my life adventurously, but it’s moments like this that make you realize the trust level you should place on a company that is ultimately trying to make a profit. People with more experience than I had concerns about us jumping and I continue to wonder why nobody spoke up and questioned if this was the best idea. I had concerns, but chalked it up to normal nerves and kept my mouth shut. Groupthink can be a very powerful and dangerous concept and in the future, I hope I will trust my gut.
Photo credit: Madeline Koch