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Reliving the Journey: reflections on our skydive

Frank LandFrank Land, emeritus professor in the Information Systems and Innovation Group at LSE, and his twin brother Ralph marked their 82nd birthday on Sunday 24 October, with a skydive to raise money for Cancer Research UK. The dive also commemorated the life of Jacqueline, Ralph's wife, who died from cancer last year.

Despite a broken ankle, the day was a success, with the brothers raising over £11,000 for Cancer Research UK. Here, Frank relives his journey:

'The morning of Sunday 24 October turned out to be crisp autumn day, blue skies, a few puffs of cloud, and very little wind. Clearly the weather was not going to prevent us from skydiving.

We arrived at the skydive centre, a large flat field near Lewknow in Oxfordshire, at the appointed time of 10.30am. We were signed in by the organisers, the London Parachute School, briefed on what was going to happen, and assigned to the seventh flight of the day. In the meantime, we had the opportunity to watch other skydivers perform and to talk to them. Many were experienced, but there were also first timers like us. All those we talked to had enjoyed the experience and some were enthusiastic enough to want to have another go immediately. In addition, there were no ambulances or posses of compensation lawyers visible!

Frank and Ralph LandWe were to be given instructions and training just before our own flight by our dive partners. My partner, Max, a professional skydiver, had performed nearly 200 skydives, many of them tandem dives. The instructions were well thought out and thorough, so that we knew the equipment, its safety features, how it was deployed, and the positions we had to take up prior to the jump in the plane and then as we descended. We would be tightly strapped to our partners, facing front and with our backs almost in their lap. At the jump from a sitting position, we had to take up what they called a banana configuration - we had to arch our backs, heads up, and feet tucked behind. The build up inspired absolute confidence.

We would jump from 12,000 feet, free fall to 6,000 feet at about 120 miles per hour, then our partner would open the parachute, and we would float down controlling direction and speed of descent by pulling the parachute control cords. Although our partners had ultimate control, we would be able to manoeuvre the parachute ourselves.

Then suddenly it was our turn. The small plane took up eight people - the pair of us with our tandem partners, one photographer for each of us, and an instructor and his student who was doing her final solo jump before graduating as a certified skydiver. We sat on the floor at the back of the cabin tight against our partners. At 6,000 feet the plane door was opened and the student jumped into the void.

Frank LandThe plane then climbed up to 12,000 feet and it was our turn. But before we jumped, all sang happy birthday for us! The drill was for the jumper to shuffle up to the open door, then sit on the edge with legs dangling out of the plane, and then to fall out. It was Ralph who went first. One moment he and his partner were sat on the edge, the next he was pushed out and disappeared. He was preceded by his photographer who had hung on the edge of the plane.

Then it was my turn. I had been slightly apprehensive, but not really nervous or frightened. There was a moment sitting with the ground 12,000 feet below, when I wondered what I was doing up there. But in no time, a push sent me and my partner into free fall. The first sensation is one of complete disorientation, but in a moment as I took up the classic dive position with arms outstretched, that sensation passed. 120 miles per hour sounds frightening, but there is no sensation of speed or indeed of falling. The air rushes past you, but it is the air that is moving, not you. Free fall takes about 40 seconds, and before you know it, the parachute opens and the rush of air stops. You float down gently, twisting and turning to manoeuvre to the landing site.

Frank and Ralph LandLanding in tandem is often done sitting down on the ground. Our instructions were to lift our feet as we land, and this worked perfectly for me. But unfortunately, Ralph who had landed just ahead of me, failed to lift his feet properly and twisted an ankle. This turned out to be a break of his ankle when he went to his local A&E the following day. So he will be in plaster for the next six weeks.

To sum up, the experience was exiting and amazing, and I would not hesitate doing it again, though it passed so quickly, that there was no time to feel the exhilaration that some find in the experience.

And what about the age factor? I made three observations:

  • It is difficult, if not impossible to get special insurance for the jump passed the age of 80.
  • At 82, and especially as 82 year old twins, you attract a great deal of attention from the media and others.
  • There is nothing which makes a reasonably fit 82 year old unsuitable for the sport, except perhaps in a stiffening of joints which makes taking up the banana position and landing position slightly more difficult.

I would like to pay tribute to the London Parachute School for the professional, caring, and kindly way they dealt with a pair of 82 year old novices. For us, despite the broken ankle it was a success, especially as we have now raised over £11,000 for Cancer Research UK.'