I needed to watch a video I hadn’t seen, for good reasons, in 10 years. In it, is documentation of a skydiving accident gone tragically wrong.
I took a gig in Fremont, Ca. The southern tip of the San Francisco Bay area. I was hired as a senior project manager for a big structural contractor.
It was the height of the Silicon Valley Boom. The company had a solid reputation and large projects were just being given to them in a no bid fashion. Just keep records of expenses.
We were building massive campuses for Intel, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, etc.
It was the first job in 10 years that I was not required to travel all over the country to manage out of state jobs. It seemed like a big relief. Ask anyone that travels for their gig and they will tell you it’s miserable. And it was.
There was a chief project manager that was a solid guy. They had 2 other PM’s that were in their 20’s and idiots.
Projects piled up on me faster than the speed of common sense. Within a month, I was handling over 20 jobs. I had a good looking and young female assistant that was a mental case and had a thing for the chief PM. So, she hung in his office all day and I had no help whatsoever. Didn’t matter how much I complained, nothing was ever done to correct it.
I had a wall of cubbies with hundreds, if not thousands, of sheets of paper. None getting filed properly.
The allure of living in NorCal was dissipating quickly.
We couldn’t afford to live in Fremont. We found a nice townhouse about 20 miles north of Fremont. We lived in Livermore. The home of Lawrence Livermore Labs. They made WMD’s. There was some consolation in living there in case of WWIII. It had to be one of the main targets by the Russkies to hit. So, we would never know what hit us…we’d just evaporate.
The summer of 2001, the owner of the company decided to throw a big retreat at a KOA in Sonoma…wine country. They rented a cabin for my family. I guess there were at least 40 employees and their families invited.
Each meal was fit for Louis XIV. No budget. Sumptuous food and drink. If you didn’t have gout when you got there, you did by the time the weekend was over.
Thing was, I didn’t really like anyone I worked with. So, days were long.
Someone brought to my attention that there was a small landing strip nearby. And they had a skydiving school.
In my late 20’s, I began the sport. I had 79 jumps under my belt by the time of the weekend party. I was 51.
I tried to get other employees to go with me. Everyone was chicken. Except for the wife of one of the junior PM’s.
I told the VP that I was going to jump, and he wished me well. It took about 15 minutes before the owner found out and took me aside. He forbade me from going. “What if you get hurt? Who is going to handle all of your jobs?”
I explained my experience, but he would have none of it and said no way.
So, the chick and I got to the airfield by mid-morning. She signed up for a tandem jump. I was having none of that. I was going alone.
We spent 20 minutes signing waivers of liability.
We suited up. And waited our turn.
They only had a single small Cessna that seated 3 plus the pilot and jump master. The inside was empty except for the pilot’s seat. We were crammed in like sardines with our legs over each other’s shoulders.
It was a hot summer day and once we were at a couple thousand feet, the air cooled off beautifully.
The chick waited for her turn on the ground since she was going tandem. I went up with two other jumpers. One was an acrobat that I thought was a crazy man. The other was a jumper who asked if he could go with me as he was starting his own video company to shoot jumps. I said fine. It cost me nothing. And I’d have a record.
The tandem jumps saw jumpers leave the plane at 3500 feet.
The experienced jumpers got a lift to 19,000 feet. You can’t imagine the view from an open door on a tiny plane.
It was my turn and out I went. The videographer followed 2 seconds later. He convinced me not to wear a helmet so I would look good in the video. First stupid move on my part.
Movies and TV make the jump always look like you are flying. You’re not. You are dropping like a fucking rock at 135mph.
I loved doing the missile move where you go headfirst in freefall with your arms at your side and you accelerate to 175mph. It shortens the freefall, but oh what a rush.
Around 10,000 feet, I flattened out to enjoy the view. At 1500 feet, I pulled my ripcord.
The video jumper stayed with me just long enough to see the smile on my face and then he didn’t pull his ripcord till 1000 feet so he could land first and get me landing like a soft pillow on a memory foam bed.
Then shit went south on me. One of the cables got looped over the canopy. It caused a huge list to the right. I yanked and yanked on my right cable handle to right the situation, but it wasn’t working.
At around 1000 feet, I used the auxiliary chute. And of course, it got tangled in the main chute. Now I was spinning like a top. I managed to unbuckle the reserve chute and it flew free. Or so I thought. It was caught in the main canopy but managed to slow me down. I believe that saved my life.
Then the worst happened. The wind forced me into a dive bomb at around 60 degrees. I pulled on the cable handles like I was yanking my pud. It must have dislodged the tangle somewhat and I was slowing down as ground rush began at 500 feet.
I was coming down at around 35mph when I tipped forward just 100 feet from the ground and hit the ground headfirst.
I dug a trench with my head in the soft loamy dirt that lasted for maybe 15-20 feet.
And no helmet. Remember?
As I behaved like a mole, digging the trench deeper and deeper, I heard my spine contracting and actually heard the snap, crackle and pop of my vertebrae.
I was unconscious by the time I came to a stop.
I don’t remember anything after that. But I have the video as my legacy.
I was totally covered in dirt and my body was invisible. The only thing visible was the chute and cables growing out of the dirt.
Then the video shows three employees running to my aid. Two of them dig for me and pull me off my stomach on to my back. I was limp and lifeless.
And then the video stopped.
I’m actually surprised that the jump school allowed me to have a copy of the video. Because it was 2001, it was VHS. I had it converted to DVD a few years later.
Every orthopedic surgeon that saw the video got whiplash at the point of me hitting the ground. Each told me surviving that was a fucking miracle…let alone not being paralyzed for life.
I was told later that after I regained consciousness, I insisted on getting up and I did. But then collapsed and passed out again.
The next few months are a blur. I’ve blocked out the aftereffects and procedures I endured.
An ultrasound of my chest showed that my heart had turned 30 degrees to the left. And did no damage. I was told that if you are going to fuck up your heart, I did it the right way. It remains turned to this day.
I did horrendous damage to my spine and vertebrae. You name it, I got it. For a few years, the art of pain management turned me into a drooling moron. Charlotte got me to a good doc that got me off the hard stuff.
I spent 4 years recuperating and learning to walk again. I was told by every single health professional that I’d never walk again. Fuck them.
If you know me personally, or if you saw me, there is no way you’d know this happened to my body. I walk upright like a real hominid.
I have limitations in that I can’t lift anything heavy. But I’ve been off pain drugs for a long time. My body self-regulated my tolerance for pain. I’m pretty sure if I could transfer the pain I feel to you, you’d drop to the fetal position and whine like a baby. The human body is just amazing in coping.
I’ve been egged on to upload my video to YouTube. I refuse. I’ve never seen anything like my accident on video or film and this is not how I want to be remembered; as the guy who was given the gift of life in an untenable situation. No one has seen the video except for doctors and my immediate family. I intend to keep it that way. After I’m gone, I hope my daughter will not make me a YouTube freak.
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