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Skydiving Experience: Band of brothers in the sky

By Azlan Zakaria

UNITY IN THE SKY: Over Kota Kinabalu. Photos: Aloys van der Palen

I BELIEVE I COULD FLY: Looking at the flashlight of a camera in the sky.

The exit point.

It was a completely outstanding and humbling experience. Jumping from a plane 7500 feet from the ground, at a speed of 130 miles per hour, free fall for 6 seconds in the dark, and once the chute opens, glide and land in the middle of Likas Stadium in Sabah packed with 40,000 thousand spectators witnessing the grand opening ceremony of SUKMA IX Games 2002 is not your average opportunity.

How did I get this marvelous opportunity that totally rocked my world?

Skydiving has always been a dream and I thought it would remain just a dream. When I read the advert in Borneo Bulletin last February about the Sabah Boogie 2002 for tandem jumps, I said to myself I want to do this. I contacted Christine Perrod manager of Borneo Connections Sdn Bhd in Sabah, the company responsible for setting up the event.

Finally after a few delays, I got my chance to do the tandem jump during the SUKMA Games opening ceremony. Yes it was my first jump ! And judging from how I felt before the jump, I'm glad it was a tandem jump, and I was taking a ride with an experienced jumper.

Was I scared? Of course! Fear is always present, especially if your knowledge on the mechanics and safety aspects of the sports is limited I was fortunate in the sense that Christine Perrod, who is also responsible for making all this possible for me was kind enough to share her knowledge. And that goes for the Malaysian Contingent as well where a lot of these information were passed over coffee in the food stall next to the hotel where we stayed.

The participants comprised two teams, the Malaysian and International teams. The Malaysian team included personnel from the Malaysian Air Force, Navy, former servicemen, government and private sector. Lt. Mohd Nizan is especially supportive, friendly and forever willing to share his experience and knowledge.

The international team comprised world class skydivers from Holland, Belgium, USA, Switzerland and Germany. There were 11 men and a lady who runs a sky divers restaurant in Spain. Of course there is my tandem jumpmaster, Mr Michael Donlon who is based in New York, USA and had come to Sabah just for this event. He's a great guy who made me feel more confident and relaxed from the moment we met in the bus on the way to the airport. I didn't know then that he was going to be my tandem jumpmaster.

His skydiving background is also a great boost. Michael has done over 4600 plus jumps both solo and tandem all over the world. He's a skydiving Instructor, Accelerated Free Fall Instructor and Static Line Instructor. What could I say except wow I'm in good hands and I'm good to go! And I did!

When I saw the TV mini-series, Band of Brothers, I wondered how the paratroopers must have felt having to jump from an airplane at night under fire. Now I know. The only difference was the people shooting at us were cameramen!

Part of the anxiety and feeling scared lies in the waiting once you're airborne. I kept running the sequence of what I needed to do once I'm out of the plane over and over again in my head and occasionally my hands would give away my thoughts. My jumpmaster, Michael sensed it and steered my thoughts to another direction by asking me what I do back in Brunei. It was a clever strategy on his part. The minute you stand on the edge of that door, it's now or never and at that point I honestly wasn't afraid anymore. Maybe it was because I couldn't see the land below me except for the brightly lit Likas Stadium. From up there the Stadium was about the size of your average Chinese sauce bowl! As how Mr.Rainer, Sabah's first civilian qualified skydiver puts it, "Up there everything happens so fast unlike in scuba diving. Things move slower underwater. "

Once the canopy is deployed, it's time to relax and enjoy the view from the top, it's breathtaking! And at that moment I remember R. Kelly's song, "I believe I can fly."

I also believe that someday Brunei will also be ready to undertake the addition of skydiving and other adventure sports . It will be a great addition especially to our tourism attractions. Skydiving competitions attract enthusiasts the world over. A wider choice of adventure sports should also help encourage a more dynamic and confident attitude towards participation in sports.

Overall the Malaysian and the International team were great.

The same goes for the International team. You can tell that this sport brings out the spirit of comradeship among them and everyone was helpful and cheerful. Aloys Van der Palen, the cameraman who jumped before me and took my photos is truly a professional in his trade. It's interesting how he can take snap shots of Michael and I free falling at 130 MPH in the dark. He even said, " When you see the lights in front of you, smile." Yeah right!

Apart from myself and Tengku Datuk Zainal Adlin, the dynamic Chairman of Sabah Tourism, there was also a 12 year old girl who participated in the tandem jump. Her name is Sieu Ling and in the plane before the jump my curiosity led me to approach her and be friendly. I asked her how many times she has done the jump.

All suited up and seated with legs dangling and swinging she replied, "This would be my third time." My jaw dropped. I informed her this was my first time and I detected a smile. I asked her, ' Any tips you can give me before jumping?" She hesitated for a moment and I waited full of anticipation for the honest reply of a 12 year old girl.

Finally with legs still swinging, she said, "Just jump, lah!" You can't beat the honesty of a child! Just do it!

On the way back to Brunei, my thoughts focussed on the beauty of our planet. From up there, I re-confirmed it's truly an amazing and beautiful planet we share. Before the jump, we were a great mix of people of different ages, races and beliefs.

Up there, we were just human beings with no distinctions. We were truly just a band of brothers looking out for each other, sharing the same joy and marvelling at the experience. If only this brotherhood of the human species can be possible below the wind then life would not have to be such a struggle.

Source: Borneo Bulletin Sunday

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