By RU Special Guest Dallas Dunn Attending a job fair soon?...
The Most Terrifying Jump Ever
Anyone who’s been stationed in Korea knows how tight it is, especially for airborne operations. There’s no land for giant drop zones like we have at Fort Bragg, so to compensate they jump out of hot air balloons attached to a giant steel cable and a winch that doesn’t require much space. It looks a little like a circus ride, but only if you’re accustomed to circus rides in hell.
My first impression was, “small valley, white vinyl hot air balloon, gondola, steel cable with winch mounted on truck. This’ll be fun.” I watched ROK soldiers conduct a few jumps while preparing my chute. The balloon went up, the troops exited, the balloon came down. Easy, right? Then the warnings started.
“If you find yourself drifting toward the giant steel cable, avoid it or your chute will deflate.” Fair enough.
“If you find yourself drifting into the giant steel cable, do not reach out and grab it or you may not have any hands left.” When you think about it, a paratrooper falls at a rate of eighteen feet per second, which is like sliding down a rope. Sliding down a steel cable would be infinitely more painful. Note to self-don’t grab the cable.
“If you find yourself drifting toward the cable, we will honk the horn on the truck very loudly.” Okay, but since there will be more than one jumper in the air, how do we know which one of us is drifting toward the cable when the horn sounds? Guess I’ll just be vigilant and figure it out. Remember-don’t grab the cable.
“If the cable breaks and the balloon drifts away into the atmosphere, immediately abandon ship.” What is it with this fucking cable? Maybe I don’t need a cool set of Korean jump wings after all.
We donned our gear when a Soldier suddenly put the cherry helmet of fear on his head, complete with underwear wrapped around it. “Is this your first jump?” someone asked. “Sixth,” he responded. “Just got out of jump school.” This will make any experienced jumper’s heart stop. It’s one thing to jump with new equipment or on a new drop zone, but to jump with a guy who could freak out and fly his chute into yours ratcheted up the pucker factor a few thousand notches.
The first thing you notice about jumping out of a balloon is the deathly quiet of the atmosphere. There’s absolutely nothing that could make any noise, so you can hear every flap of every bird’s wings as it passes by and looks at you like you’re stupid for having legs and thumbs. The silent ride up gave me a sincere appreciation for the roar of aircraft engines, the scream of the jumpmaster, and the smell of exhausted JP8.
Then we reached the end of the cable and the whole contraption jerked like an elevator hitting the top floor at an unbelievably unsafe rate of speed. I grabbed the handrail like it was a grenade with no pin.
“You ready?” The ROK Jumpmaster said to the first guy in the stick as the wind at altitude picked up and blew the balloon around.
“Yes!” the frightened first jumper responded, trying not to sound like his balls were in his throat and failing. I couldn’t blame him. Besides being eerily quiet, the jump command process was completely avoided. There was no, “OUTBOARD PERSONNEL, STAND UP!” or any of that. With a high speed aircraft, you at least have a little bit of time to think about what’s going to happen before the door opens. Not here.
The worst part was not being the first jumper. I was second, so when the first guy exited the gondola, this rickety piece of tin shook like Jessica Simpson’s rack in a San Francisco earthquake. There were only five of us in this Coke can, so when one guy jumped off and his static line pulled the whole platform down, it was a little like crashing a car and filled my mind with, “I want off this fucking ride.”
I got my chance and stepped out into absolutely no breeze whatsoever. This meant it took eight seconds to deploy the main parachute. EIGHT SECONDS! That’s an eternity to someone accustomed to feeling a violent opening shock three or four seconds after jumping out of a plane traveling at 130 miles per hour. Rodeo riders call their sport the longest eight seconds in the world. When you’re staring at 1500 feet of Korea coming straight up at you, I call bullshit on that.
With a good canopy (and the cherry jumper) above me, I was searching the postage stamp DZ for a place to land when I heard a sound I will never forget. The dreaded horn roared.
“Fuck!” I thought in a bit of a panic. “Where is that cable that will either deflate my chute or tear my hands off? And where is that cherry jumper who was right behind me?”
No matter how much I looked, I could not see any cable, but what I did see just past my boots was another balloon…ascending into the sky on another cable…right below me. The balloon had been on the DZ all morning, but wasn’t being used. Someone had the bright idea to get it airborne and use it to speed up the operations, but had miscalculated the winds. As I was descending and coming upwind (because that’s what you do when you land), the balloon was being pushed downwind. We were on a collision course.
I don’t think a parachute in the history of man has ever turned so tightly. I pulled that riser down to my knees and spun around to fly away, only now I had a new problem. I was running with the wind at about a hundred miles an hour and any paratrooper who can still walk will tell you that’s a very bad thing.
With the second balloon avoided, I only had moments to turn around, find a spot, and land. I pulled a slip and got myself facing into the wind, put my feet and knees together, and slammed into a hillside. If I were a comic book hero there would have been a KA-POW over my head. I swore my ankles were broken and laid there on the DZ feeling them to make sure they weren’t as the cherry jumper slammed into the same hill only a few feet away.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I just followed you, Sir,” he answered. I would later learn this is called ocular affixation-running into something because you’re staring at it. It’s like not being able to avoid a deer running across the road because you’re staring straight at it.
By the time I got my chute stowed and limped toward the turn in point, my balloon had been reeled in and four new smiling troops were boarding it.
Sucks to be you.