Right before we jumped I asked the instructor why we weren’t supposed to jump with cloud coverage below us, he said “helicopters”, and then we jumped.
The trip out to the skydiving venue in Texas was relatively uneventful. It was an overcast day but my adrenaline was pumping. I was going to jump out of a plane and trust my life to a backpack full of nylon, good times.
Our flight up was delayed several hours due to complete cloud coverage. The skydiving company was apparently forbidden to embark on any trips under these conditions. After hours of waiting and begging the instructors to take us up, they finally obliged. We promised to say, if anyone ever asked, that there was a break in the clouds before we went up, but for the record, there wasn't.
My instructor and I were the first to board the plane which meant we would be the last to jump. As we spiraled up through the clouds my heart was pounding. As we started to level off, my instructor starting attaching himself to my back. I had just met this guy a few hours ago and now I was siting in his lap as he tightened the harness between us. It was uncomfortable on many levels.
As the other jumpers started filing out, we scooted closer and closer to the open door. The sound was nearly deafening, but we managed to have the aforementioned conversation about helicopters, and the we jumped.
The first couple seconds could only be described as completely disorienting. As we leveled out, I couldn't help but smile, I was flying! Or falling, whatever.
It was loud. It was cold. The clouds below us were approaching fast. All I could see in every direction was a sea of soft gray. I had to remind myself to breathe, and not think about helicopters.
As we hit the top of the cloud ceiling my heart skipped a beat. At that same moment, something in my inner ear ruptured, literally. It was one of the most intense, acute pains I have ever experienced. I'm not sure how or why it happened, something to do with rapidly changing pressure, but the ear, nose and throat doctor that I saw the following day remarked that it's not that uncommon. The doctor ended up having to slice my eardrum open and vacuum out fluid from my inner ear. The slicing and vacuuming may have been the worst 30 seconds of my life.
Back to the fall, we busted through the clouds. Lucky for me a helicopter was not on the other side. My ear was radiating pain through my face as the instructor, still strapped to my back, screamed "Oh shit!". My heart skipped another beat. He then went on to explain, by screaming into my throbbing ear, that because of the cloud coverage the plane had veered off course and since we were the last to jump, we were too far away from the landing zone, which meant we needed to avoid power lines and try to land in a safe spot.
After this realization, the instructor pulled the rip cord to release the parachute, giving us more time to try to navigate to a safe landing zone. He explained that we would need to "crab" our way to a nearby field, but try to avoid power lines and the freeway beneath us. To "crab", one must hold the parachute handles as high as possible and repeatedly pull one side down. My arms were much longer than my instructors, so he had me do the crabbing. It was tiring, uncomfortable and I felt like someone had just exploded a firecracker in my ear. This was far from the quiet, enjoyable parachute ride I was expecting.
We were able to crab over the freeway and over a nearby field. By holding the parachute handles up high, we were able to gain enough speed to cover significant horizontal ground, which was good, however, in the midst of the crabbing drama, my instructor forgot to prepare us for a gentle landing. The ground was approaching fast, real fast, and all of the sudden my instructor just starting shouting "lift your legs! lift your legs!" while trying to rip the parachute handles from my grasp. I let go of the handles, lifted my legs, and hit the ground at a velocity I would categorize as "near fatal", ass first.
My first thought was that I broke my back. My tailbone, back, neck and head all instantly throbbed with pain. My instructor, who was now on top of my crumpled, aching body started apologizing profusely and asking if I was okay. It took me a minute or so to get my bearings and realize that I could walk, despite feeling like I just got suplexed by a sumo wrestler.
Luckily, the skydiving crew on the ground realized the pilot's error as divers starting falling through the clouds, so they sent a golf cart to come retrieve us. I rode back to the runway where we took off, safe on the ground, but hurting from head to toe, or more specifically, from ear to ass.
The next few weeks were miserable. My eardrum had to heal from the incision. A doctor confirmed that my tailbone was likely fractured. I had a severe headache for days. A year later or so I herniated two discs in my neck and the doctors agreed that the skydiving landing was probably what caused that also. Despite the injuries, I'm glad I did it. It was something I always dreamed of doing and I'm glad I was able to check it off my list. That said, it was the first and last time I will go skydiving.