By Rob Orton
I was at Hinton, on a beautiful summer’s day, with good friends with whom I’d done many jumps (and linked exits) with before. It was jump number 162 for me – a 4-way FS jump. We were at 12k, counting off seven seconds of separation between ourselves and the group in front of us. When we set up in the door for a stair-step diamond exit I, outside centre, was second to climb out. After a short setup, everyone was in place.
It was time. Up. Down. Up.
I let go of the inside bar of the plane and used that hand to grab the grip of the point’s left arm. As I was dropping away from the plane, I had the sense that he was about to go over me. Something wasn’t right, somehow.
The next thing I remember is seeing the plane – and my group – in the distance. I was baffled. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t with them. Wasn’t I just holding on to the left point? Well, there he was, a tiny speck in the sky, and I was on my back at what felt like a hundred miles below him and growing.
Something big, fast and close suddenly caught my attention. There was something flapping violently around in front of me: apparently, an arm. Whose arm it was, and where exactly they were, I couldn’t have told you.
It was mine.
The thing was my left arm. Impossibly, I couldn’t feel it. There was no pain. Beyond knowing anything about how I’d gotten there, the realisation started to dawn that I was in serious, serious trouble.
I grabbed the useless arm with my other hand. I squeezed, hard, just to make sure it was mine (who else’s would it be?) but there was nothing – no sensation. Despite repeated, focused (maybe slightly desperate) attempts, I couldn’t will it to move. It made me remember the feeling of having a night terror when you need to activate your legs to run away from a demon, but your body doesn’t respond.
Now acutely aware that my arm was no longer under any control of mine and flapping around like a muppet in a hurricane, my primary focus became preserving it as best I could. I didn’t want it windmilling around, and the thought of what might happen to it on deployment filled me with grey dread.
To help keep my arm close to my chest (and, with any luck, control it a little better), I flipped to belly.
Suddenly, cutting through the deluge of my frantic inner monologue, an assertive – yet reassuring – woman’s voice resonated.
It was my recently purchased VOG speaking altimeter.
Luckily, as it was so new, I had it set to a bunch of different altitudes so I could figure out which ones I wanted to keep. This proved invaluable as I couldn’t turn my left wrist towards me to read my wrist alti. Suddenly, my altitude awareness had definition and colour: I knew I had critical decisions to make, but now I also knew I had some time to consider my options.