Skydiving: Attempting to Face My Fears Ends in An Unexpected Tragedy

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Preparing to go skydiving for the first time

Did you know that less than 1% of the world’s population has ever gone skydiving? I have always wanted to go skydiving and have talked about it often. So when my husband presented me with a gift to go skydiving for our anniversary, I initially got a little sick to my stomach, but that quickly passed and was replaced with excitement. My tandem jump was scheduled for 11 am on Sunday, August 17, a week after receiving my gift.

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Skydive Pepperell

We arrived around 9:30 am at Skydive Pepperell at the Pepperell Airport in Pepperell, MA. To get to Pepperell from Boston, you have to drive into New Hampshire and then back over into Massachusetts.

A short drive down the gravel driveway and you’ll see the wide open space used for landings, the runway, and a small group of buildings used by Skydive Pepperell.

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Watching a skydiver above

Other groups had already started jumping and as I looked up into the sky I could see individual as well as tandem jumpers having a blast!

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Watching others land

Although I was anxious, I was really looking forward to my first jump.

Skydive Pepperell operates a well organized operation with all members of the team operating in sync. Upon arrival, I walked over to the check in area even though I was early for my 11 am jump. Jumps are scheduled every hour and I was hoping to get in at an earlier time in case there had been any last minute cancellations. I was advised I could add on video, either a handheld video with my instructor or with a separate videographer. I opted for my own personal videographer despite my hatred of pictures or video with me in it, but I definitely wanted to document this experience.

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First page of waiver

From there I had to wait for the next “waiver” class in the designated waiver room. Once the announcement was made for the next class, I found a seat, grabbed the clipboard with the two documents consisting of several pages of legal waivers, and a pen and waited. After the basics of the forms were explained, we then had to sit and watch a video by the company’s lawyer explaining the ins and outs of the legal documents. All forms had to be signed and initialed, our height and weight entered, and name and phone of next of kin recorded. The video also explained some basics on exiting the plane, how it wouldn’t feel like falling when we exited the plane, understanding “ground rush,” and how to land, but the video wasn’t intended as a replacement for the instruction we were about to receive from our instructor.

After the waiver class, I was then to wait outside until my name was called for the next jump. From here I would get suited up, begin my instruction, and go up for my first tandem jump. After the waiver class and while waiting for my instruction, I have to admit that I was starting to get really nervous. Nervous like I had way too much caffeine (which I hadn’t) nervous, but I knew it was because my common sense was trying to tell me that you’re not supposed to jump out of a plane. “Yeah, yeah — simmer down,” I told my common sense. “You’ve said these things before and I’m not listening. It’ll be fine, you’ll see.”

All of a sudden I saw several employees running across the field and someone screaming. Although I could see it happening, I think my brain processed it as something different, like maybe this was a drill. As they descended on a jumper who hadn’t landed in the designated landing area, but instead near or on the air strip, it was too far away for any of us to see exactly what was going on, but we all knew it wasn’t anything good. We could hear someone screaming that they call 911 and suddenly the atmosphere which was electric with excitement and constant buzzing from people talking became eerily quiet. Perhaps it was simply optimism or maybe because I was anticipating jumping next, but I kept thinking that maybe the jumper broke a foot or ankle on his or her landing and they were just helping him/her up.

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Ambulance arrives on scene

First an ambulance arrived and then police and while we expected the injured jumper to be loaded and quickly taken out, this didn’t happen. While we waited, we noticed groups of people talking and hypothesizing as to what happened, but since I didn’t see what had occurred, I couldn’t make any assumptions. While I had seen several people crying, I still only believed that this jumper had been injured and they were upset about the accident. An announcement was made overhead for anyone who had checked in, completed the waiver, and was either suited up or was about to be suited up to head to check in for an announcement. An employee came out and said that there would be no more jumps that day and that we should call during the week to either ask for a refund or reschedule. She was visibly upset and I had all of the information I needed so I turned around to leave. Other people just stood there as if they were going to get more information or more specifics, which was completely unnecessary.

It wasn’t until after I left Skydive Pepperell that I learned that the jumper, 37-year-old Daniel Pelrine of Mattapan, had died of “blunt trauma from the ground.” The experienced jumper’s parachute had opened and investigators were on the scene on Sunday to try to determine what exactly had happened. While I didn’t know Daniel, from what I read he was someone who loved skydiving with over 400 jumps under his belt, was recently engaged, and was renovating a two-story schoolhouse that had been converted into a home. I felt completely voyeuristic having taken a photo of the ambulance when it first arrived, but that wasn’t what was intended. As someone who constantly documents the activities of her life in photos and words, my intention was to show that should someone get injured, the response time was incredibly fast. If I knew the outcome to the situation at the time I took the picture, I probably wouldn’t have taken the picture at all. With extreme activities like this, it is understandable when people say they will never give this a go. It is an amazing opportunity to take up, but when you hear stories like these, it can put you off completely. This is why companies like Money Expert exist. With sky-diving being seen as a high risk activity, it makes sense to get life insurance before attempting this. It sounds dramatic, but I’m pretty such Daniel or his family didn’t expect anything like this to happen. You just never know what will happen, so it is best to cover yourself during activities like these.

While this was an unfortunate accident, Skydive Pepperell has been in operation since 1991 and this won’t dissuade me from going back to do my first tandem dive. Some might say that I have an out for choosing not to go, but that would be far too easy. That would also mean I would allow my fear to get the best of me and I’m not about to let that happen. It would also be a disservice to the memory of Daniel who clearly loved to skydive and wasn’t afraid to do what he loved. I fully intend to go back and finish what I started to prove to myself that I can do this. It’s extremely easy to get caught up in your own fears and not live life and I refuse to do that. If you’re in the Boston area and want to do the jump with me, give me a shout and let’s go together. I’m going to embrace my fears and enjoy every second of my life without regret. What about you?

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