Mail reporter Mark takes to the skies

WHILE most of us spent the Easter weekend enjoying some relaxation, Hartlepool Mail reporter Mark Thompson opted to throw himself from a plan from 9,000ft!

HOW did it feel?

Hartlepool Mail reporter Mark Thompson pictured at Shotton Airfield

Hartlepool Mail reporter Mark Thompson pictured at Shotton Airfield

It’s a question I ask every day in my job to people who have done extraordinary things. Often the reply is simply: “I can’t put it into words”.

After jumping from a small plane at 9,000ft and hurtling towards the earth at a rate of knots I now understand how they feel, but I’ll try and expand a bit more on my nerve-jangling experience.

We report on a lot of daredevils doing fundraising jumps at the North-East’s only skydiving centre near Shotton, but nothing could prepare me for what I was about to do.

There was wind, hail and cloud as the door of the small four-seater Cessna opened to reveal a North-East dotted with minuscule towns, fields and roads.

I wriggled out of the plane attached to my experienced tandem buddy Dave Taylor, who warned me “there’s only one way down from here”.

We awkwardly stepped out onto a plank and paused for a surreal few seconds as we travelled at around 80mph through the overcast sky while being peppered with ice.

Then in what felt like a moment of madness, we fell to the right and my world became a daze of adrenaline, noise and speed as we hurtled towards the ground at a speed of around 12,000ft a minute.

We were in freefall for only a matter of seconds but that was enough to get me smiling like a Cheshire cat as those towns, fields and roads got bigger fast.

With a quick tug of a cord, the parachute thankfully deployed and in a millisecond the chaos came to an end and we were left tranquilly dangling with Hartlepool, Teesside, Durham City and Sunderland visible below.

After having a go at the controls and doing a few spins, we were back down to Earth in a few minutes and I was eager to go straight back up and do it all again.

The descent may be quick, but staff are keen to point out all skydives start with a lot of waiting around and forms. It took me two visits to finally get into the sky.

There’s no hurrying what is obviously a risky sport and I was put through an hour of training before joining a waiting list and hoping for good weather conditions over a dreadful Easter weekend.

Mark Willcox was my instructor and after revealing he had done more than 3,000 jumps, I felt I was in safe hands.

Tandem jumps are fairly straight-forward, an expert does all the tricky and important bits while you enjoy the experience.

But there are a few key things to remember, such as bodyshape so you don’t tumble through the air like a hay bale and not opening your mouth too wide and gulping in half of the atmosphere.

I asked Mark why so many people do it, while wondering why I too had chosen to go against my natural instincts.

“Because it’s a rush, I still get that feeling now,” he said.

“Even when there is a bad incident involving skydiving somewhere we see a surge in people wanting to do it. Nothing puts people off.

“I suppose that’s why people do it. The fear and the adrenaline. There is nothing like it.”

Facts reveal that I was in far more danger driving to the airfield than doing the jump, but safety was clearly of paramount importance all the same.

Phoenix Video Production skydivers are also on hand to capture the rush and the emotions on DVD and in photos. With a lot of people doing a jump as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, they are a priceless keepsake.

In truth skydiving is not a cheap hobby, it can be a long wait and tedious at times and it will make even the most hardy a bit nervous, but I for one have never felt more alive than in those few seconds when I plummeted through the skies.

To steal the words of countless people before me, I can’t put it into words.

• FOR more information about what is on offer with the Skydive Academy at Peterlee Parachute Centre, ring (0191) 5171234 or email {mailto: office@skydiveacademy.org.uk|office@skydiveacademy.org.uk}

• To find out more about Phoenix Video Production contact Mark Willcox on 07713 467568 or email phoenixvids@yahoogroups.co.uk