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Skydiving in South Africa

Andy and Kathy

MS Trust supporters Andy and Kathy Porter made their recent holiday in South Africa extra special by taking part in a sponsored skydive.

Here Andy tells us all about their experience, which involved a surprising amount of gaffer tape, and shares the video of their jump.

Kathy wakes up at 5.30am and opens the curtains to reveal the most beautiful sunrise over the Indian Ocean and crystal clear blue skies. After five postponed attempts, our skydive is on!

After breakfast we drive to the aerodrome. We decide to take Kathy's new wheelchair and it handles the rough ground to the Skydive Plett office (shed) without any problems. Above us a pair of silk canopies, each with two people attached, float gently earthwards. There is a breeze, but only a gentle one and the skies are as clear as they could be.

We nervously put on our MS Trust tops and take a selfie. Sitting outside the office, a lad about our son Josh's age is still smiling after his jump, "I just want another go, it's amazing, you'll love it!" His mum tells us about her sister who, like Kathy, has MS. There is a lot of goodwill around on this bright, sunny morning.

A chiseled, blonde and taciturn parachute instructor appears in dark glasses. His name is Reinier and he is my tandem partner. He starts strapping Kathy into her harness, explaining the procedure as he goes in clipped Afrikaans tones, "When it's time to leave the aircraft you will put both arms across your chest like this, you will lean back and keep your legs straight, then turn, look at the camera and smile."

He says exactly the same thing to me as he does my harness, clenching his teeth and miming a thumbs up on the word 'smile', and then leaves us. Kathy and I look at each other, "The straps feel a bit loose on the shoulders, are yours the same? Should we tell him?" We are so far out of our comfort zone it begins to feel more than a little surreal.

Gaffer tape

As we approach the plane it surprisingly looks even smaller than it had in the air. It's TINY. And isn't that gaffer tape wrapped around the wheel struts? Inside it is even smaller and there is a lot more gaffer tape; it's everywhere, connecting windows to the fuselage, binding bits of fuselage together and all around the edges of the gaping hole where the door should be.

The aerodrome is soon distant and in no time we are flying high over tiny yellow toy trucks going about their business in the Robberg Quarry. The peninsula swings into view and beyond that the shimmering waters of Plettenberg Bay. Mountain ranges mass in the distance, tier upon tier of them in various shades of purple, maroon and indigo. The views are stupendous. For something the approximate size and age of a Morris Minor Traveller, the little plane is surprisingly stable.

We keep swinging around and upwards. Reinier, previously in a Zen-like state of silence, mutters something and tightens the harness connections, "When it's time to leave the aircraft you will put both arms across your chest like this, you will lean back and keep your legs straight, then turn, look at the camera and smile... now, swing your legs out of the door."

Freefalling

I struggle to get my right foot around the door frame (maybe it's stuck to the gaffer?) and wonder how on earth Kathy will manage the same manoeuvre when it's her turn. However after a tug or two I get there. Here we go!!! A quick shove in the back and I'm falling. Whilst my arms are across my chest, that is the only one of Reinier's few simple instructions I manage to keep. My chin is in my chest and I'm tucked into the foetal position, eyes shut fast, somersaulting in mid air at 120 mph.

This continues for a short while then I remember what to do and I am actually flying, arms out, head back and legs vaguely straight. Reinier is there somewhere but you wouldn’t know it really. Absolutely brilliant! Then a sharp tug as the parachute opens and I begin to take in the amazing views and reflect a little on what just happened.

I think of Kathy hurtling around somewhere up there in the nothingness above, and my mum, and our dog Bryn and most of all my dad - as an RAF Parachute Training Instructor during the war he experienced this hundreds of times, on his own. No wonder he loved it.

Back down to earth

The landing is as gentle as could be, barely discernible. But where is Kathy? I sit and watch as she and her instructor Jeff drift down just over the brow of a little hill. At least they are still on the airfield.

In a few minutes we are reunited. Her jump had been great but the landing was a lot harder than mine as following a somewhat frantic exit from the plane which involved Kathy, Jeff and Sean the pilot dragging Kathy's reluctant legs into position, Jeff had decided to break her fall on his backside rather than attempt to land on their feet. He was a hero and genuinely happy for Kathy making the descent with style.

The important thing was we had finally done it. Skydive Plett had saved the day and we would not after all have to tell the MS Trust and all our sponsors that, despite repeated attempts, due to factors beyond our control no skydive had been possible in the Western Cape during the three weeks of our stay.

The debrief

We regroup over a welcome cold beer and glass of Sauvignon Blanc at the Lookout Deck, a beach restaurant at the very end of Kerboumstrand. Kathy recounts what happened after I'd left the plane.

Her legs had stiffened up after the 20 minute flight and simply refused to move. So, on Jeff's request to get up onto his lap ready for take off, she had gripped them and tried to get them into position to shuffle to the door. Jeff had assisted but time was slipping away to ensure a safe landing in the drop-zone and she was anxious that they would decide to abort the jump. The pilot had briefly taken a hand off the controls and contributed to the team effort to get her out of the door.

Once she was finally out, her experience sounded similar to mine, but he landing was altogether different as the proper drop zone disappeared into the distance and Jeff guided the parachute straight down into a corner of the field on the perimeter of the aerodrome.

We told our waitress what we had just done and she said, "No! I could never, ever do that - not a chance".

We just keep smiling… Brilliant!