I’ve always found it interesting to observe how people celebrate achieving their 65th Birthday.
Last Saturday morning, my co-worker Andrea’s husband, Ralph, celebrated his 65th Birthday in real style.
He went SKY DIVING!
For the first time ever.
I’ve known Ralph and Andrea for almost two years since relocating here to begin a two-year Personal Mission to help families here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.
Andrea is a Director of one of the Departments at our place of day-time employment here in Long Beach, and Ralph is retired military – USAF. Andrea herself, is a self-described ‘military brat,’ having lived in a gazillion places on earth during her father’s long military service. Both are wonderful people, and friends that anyone would feel most privileged to have in their lives, as is, too, Master Naturalist Buddy John. Andrea and Ralph also recently celebrated their 5th wedding anniversary.
Ralph enjoys getting out and enjoying the outdoors, including kayaking and sailing on the Gulf.
And as he approached the age of 65, he decided that to celebrate that milestone, he wanted to make a sky dive. Late last week, Andrea called and asked if I would like to join them in this experience, and perhaps shoot some digital images of Ralph and his Instructor making the jump.
So, last Saturday morning, Ralph and Andrea stopped over to pick me up, and then drove up to Master Naturalist Buddy John’s to pick him up. At that point we headed north towards Hattiesburg, and the small town of Lumberton, where the airport and the Gold Coast Diving Club was located that Ralph would be using for his jump.
Ralph, left, and spouse, Andrea, and Master Naturalist Buddy John, at the Lumberton Airport.
About 45 minutes later, we drove through Lumberton, which is a beautiful, rural, small, Mississippi town, much like you would find in every state in this country, and then on through to the airport, located just west of there.
As we pulled into the fenced airport and parked, there were several jumpers already there, talking with one of the instructors about what to expect during their jump.
The Sky Diving Club uses a sleek, white, twin-engine De Havilland Aircraft, manufactured in Canada, as their jump plane.
While Ralph went inside the office to sign in with the staff there, Andrea, John and I walked around to the back of the building, and watched as several jumpers donned jump suits and harness, in preparation for their jump. About 8-10 jumpers went up in the first plane load, including 2-3 tandem jumpers.
We all watched that plane load take off and climb some 15 minutes or so to approximately 14,000 feet, and soon, multicolored parachutes begin to blossom high in the sky above us.
Ever so slowly, the chutes and divers shifted and swayed from side-to-side and around, as they slowly drifted downward to the landing site, right in front of the Club building.
By the time the final diver had landed, the De Havilland was also landing nearby on the runway, and it was time for Ralph to make his way over to the loading area.
As it turned out, Ralph wasn’t the only one of our little group boarding the plane, as Naturalist Buddy John volunteered to go along in the co-pilot’s seat on the ride.
So, as Andrea and I stood nearby, the plane again taxied over to the head of the runway and gunned it down the strip and into the air for Ralph’s jump.
Right after the plane was airborne, we lost sight of it, until about 15 minutes later, when I saw the first divers chutes open some 14,000 feet above us. About six chutes opened above us, but, looking upward through my telephoto zoom lens, I was unable to find the rainbow chute that Ralph’s Instructor Jason, was using, nor Ralph’s red jumpsuit.
Almost two minutes later, two more chutes opened above us, and, thankfully, the last one looked to be the one that Jason was using. And, seconds later, I spotted Ralph’s red jumpsuit.
So, they were finally on their way down.
The dive chute that opened just ahead of Ralph’s, was that of his videographer, who was snapping video and still shots of Ralph all during the jump.
On the ground, friend Lance was also snapping digital shots of Ralph and Jason, all during their descent.
Eventually, they floated those final few feet above the ground, and then landed on their butts with kind of a ‘thud,’ laying back on their backs, which was unlike most of the other jumper landings, made just moments before.
When they hit, I said to Andrea, “Do you think they’re hurt?” We started walking in their direction, and a few moments later, with the help of the video guy who went over to them to help them get up, Ralph was standing, and then, started walking towards us. The mental picture of him doing that, brought back images of Maverick and Goose walking away from their F-16 after a landing in the hit movie “TOP GUN.”
When we finally met, and after we had found that Ralph was OK, I asked Ralph how the jump was. He answered, “To tell you the truth, it was kind of scary.”
He was noticeably hyper for a short time after landing, and seemed to become more calm and relaxed after returning his jump gear and walking out to the car to leave. We learned that the dive video wouldn’t be ready for an hour and a half, so we decided to drive back into Lumberton and have lunch, and check out the town a bit.
We found a small cafe in Lumberton to have lunch, and afterwords, enjoyed a couple of short shopping sworees into local Dollar stores. Then it was a quick drive back to the airport to pick up the video and DVD of the still shots, and we headed back south towards the Gulf Coast.
As we drove back south, Ralph and Andrea talked of their plans to visit friends back in Wisconsin this week and next, especially spending a few days at a friend’s home up on the beautiful Door County peninsula, neat Sturgeon Bay.
Now, that’s a trip I would love to make with them, and perhaps one day, I can.