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Beechcraft Super 18 on it's Back Over the Drop Zone with Jumpers On-board

by Dan Thompson (AKA '86) |

Dan sent us a very interesting article about a hair­ raising experience he and others experienced on August 4, 1986 while on a training jump near Ft. Wainright.

Six squares (BLM chutes} had been dropped, and now it was about time for him to exit, along with Rick Abreau (AKA 86). Ed Strong (AKA 75) was spotting and Scott Dewitz (AKA 82) was taking video of the action. Ed barked, "Get in the Door!" Dan quickly and deliberately moved his left foot onto the outside step and dropped to his right knee. He leaned back, covered his emergency chute with an arm and clutched the side-rail of the door. Birch Hill was below them. with Ft. Wainright and Fairbanks just beyond.

The pilot was new at dropping jumpers and had a tendency to line up too far to the right. Ed kept instructing him to go left. Ed then commanded, "Get ready!" Dan removed his hand from the emergency chute, grasped the other handrail, and leaned back hard, tensed with anticipation. He heard Ed tell the pilot again to move left. At that point Dan said, the plane lurched disturbingly sideways and instantly they were upside down, and then the plane began rolling, wing over wing . He said Scott was bouncing around and Ed had disappeared from view. Dan tried desperately to get out the door, but was riveted to the doorway by centrifugal force. He knew that if the plane kept falling he would never get out, even though his body was mere inches from the door opening, and his lower left leg was already outside.

Suddenly, the plane seemed to stop spinning, but then, just as quickly, flipped back and began rolling in the other direction. He said there was blue sky and then dark earth, flashing by alternately before his eyes with terrifying rapidity as they continued to fall. He had visions of a fireball and became convinced that they were all going to die momentarily. He remembers thinking, "I really don't want to die today." He had to get out of the Volpar! With all of his will racing overtime he still was welded, unmovable, in the doorway. Staying in the plane would be suicide, but if he could jump, did he have enough altitude, would he miss the propellers? What about their airspeed­ later determined to be 140-150 knots at the time? He felt time was going to catch up with them shortly as terror enveloped him.

Then suddenly the force pinning him in the door eased off. The pilot had put the plane into a dive and was trying to pull up. Taking everything into consideration, Dan at that point put everything into one great pull forward. He slid down the side of the fuselage and watched the stabilizer-zip past his face mask. His chute slammed open and fast. He had several line twists, and when he stopped spinning he was looking directly at the Volpar. It was straight in front of him. He realized the terror of those still on the plane. They were far from being out of danger. The Volpar were perilously close to the ground, pitching and fluttering, rocking in the breeze like a falling maple leaf. Then it hung stone-like, for what seemed to be far too long a time, and then moved away normally toward Ft. Wainright.

Dan punched through a birch and his chute held. He quickly checked to see if there were shroud lines under his chin - thoughts of Arden Davis, who had died from strangulation - and then released the capewells simultaneously and fell the final two feet. He hit the ground running and all he could say was, " YEP, THAT WAS PRETTY SCARY!" over and over again. As he started to get out of his suit several jumpers came running over and momentarily Ken Coe (AKA 80), one of his rookie trainers. took one look at him and said, "Damn rookies are getting all the old salt points this year," then turned and was gone.

As he and his friends walked down the road they told of their own terror. The plane it seems was directly over the jump spot during most of its plunge, and they had cattered in all directions, their feet driven by the fear that they too would become statistics in a seemingly inescapable tragedy.

Dan said it took some time to rid himself of the fear of flying, and would vigorously brush his teeth in flight to relieve the stress. He continued to jump for three more years at Fairbanks. He currently lives at Lakebay, Washington west of Tacoma.