My SA Navy friend, Dick Taplin, who, with Lloyd Wingate, had climbed the hawser to board a ship in Walvis Bay, married Sally Radulovic, the girl whom I’d taken to my Matric dance, while I was away. Dick was working for a construction company, Fowler Tarspraying. When I caught up with them on my return, he suggested that I apply for a job with them as well. As an assistant concrete foreman, I was sent to work building a little bridge over a railway line on a platinum mine near the town of Rustenburg.
At a pub, the Tamboti Inn, just outside town, I met a mixed bag of men my own age that were interested in starting a parachuting club. Chris Nussey was driving force behind it. He was a slightly older man, an ex-Congo mercenary, often there visiting his girlfriend, the daughter of a local farmer. Chris held a National Certificate D (D66) issued by the Aero Club of South Africa which entitled him to instruct. He was very keen to get a club off the ground and hence, the Rustenburg Parachute Club was born. His friend from Johannesburg, Bernie Massyn (D16), assisted with training.
In a flash, I joined up.
The first group of about five men did their training on a Saturday and jumped out of a Piper Tripacer on the Sunday. I would have to wait for the following weekend for my first jump. In the meantime I learned how to pack a parachute. Chris and Bernie obtained a handful of TU ’chutes and a larger T-10 for any weighty students. For an A licence, we needed ten static-line jumps in a stable position pulling a dummy rip-cord and the instructor’s approval. Then we would be permitted to do our first freefall.
Every jump was an adrenalin rush, but my first was suicide. I was sure that I would jump, but I didn’t expect to survive.
The door was removed from the rear of the Anton Lamprecht’s Tripacer. I sat cross-legged in the doorway with the dispatcher, Bernie Massyn, behind me, my static line tied to Anton’s seat. On my back was a TU ‘chute and a goreless reserve clipped to the rig on my belly. We took off from the grass runway and circled around the hill-clad landscape, climbing to two thousand five hundred feet. Bernie knew just how frightened I was. He gave me a hug, scraped his beard stubble across my cheek and called to Anton.
Then, with a squeeze to my shoulder as the plane floated quietly in the sky, he said, “Go!” in my ear.
Which brought me down to earth, so to speak.
What I was supposed to do was flare out arms and legs in a star position and arch my back to gain a stable fall. Actually, my first reaction was to simply black out. There was a jerk which brought me around as the ‘chute opened. Only then I flared into a star, much too late. Feeling extremely foolish and hoping that nobody had seen it, as well as being surprised to be alive, I looked up at the breathing silk of the canopy to find the toggles. With these, I steered towards the ploughed circle of the dropzone, high on the rush, bathed in the beauty of floating down to the earth. Exultant!
Saving enough for further jumps as I went along, it took me several months to get seven jumps completed. They were not all smooth. I was still terrified, but managed to start getting used to a dummy rip-cord pull which was essential to master before qualifying for free-fall. Then at the beginning of August, 1970, with help to pack from a fellow jumper, I did three jumps to reach my tenth, which was near perfect, overcoming a tendency I had to tumble forward as I brought my arms in to pull the ripcord.
That same day I went up for my eleventh – my first freefall. I had a three second delay and went for my ripcord. I went unstable as my old problem returned and somersaulted before my ‘chute deployed. But I had done it. I was now a skydiver!
My unstable problems continued to haunt me until my fifteenth jump, when it caused a worse problem. Although John Higgins (D73) wrote, “Careful packing helps, believe me!” in my logbook, that was not the problem. I was somersaulting as my ‘chute deployed. I clearly saw the pilot ‘chute, – a little spring-loaded item that pops into the wind to drag the main ‘chute out behind it – stop dead as it hit my boot. It then went through a gore, a steering gap in the main ‘chute, which caused a partial malfunction. It tugged me upright, so that, looking upward I could see a tangled orange mess following me.
I hit my reserve ‘chute ripcord and threw it out into the wind, but with the wind rush reduced by the partially open main, it wandered about, wondering whether to open fully or not. All the while, the ground rushed up to meet me. Finally the reserve blossomed, but it is small and the landing would be hard. I barely missed a high voltage electric line, a tarmac road and telephone wires. I crossed the main road, braced myself and took out the road-reserve fence with my boots.
Like falling off a horse, Chris Nussey made me go up again as soon as somebody hurriedly helped me pack another ‘chute. Two of us jumped from four thousand feet. I rolled again, got tangled in my lines and landed upside down in a thornbush. After that jump, Michael P. Hellman (D35) wrote in my logbook, “Opening position still faulty. Maintain your arch on pulling.”
Maintaining stability on dumping my rag, as the saying goes, remained a problem right up to my last jump in Rustenburg, my thirty-seventh, in May, 1971, although I had plenty of smooth jumps in between and qualified for my B licence.
There would be a three year gap in my skydiving as I got a new job that sent me into the wilds of Africa. But I would be back.