Tales from the Bonfire | My Date with Destiny
Excerpted from the book “Out of the Blue: My History of Freefall, Ethanol and Skyfall” by Randy Lippincott.
During my leave home in June 1971 before rotating to Europe, my singular objective was to qualify for my D license. First, with my dad’s help, I had to make 17 additional skydives to bring my freefall total up to 200. The aim was to bolster my resumé for possible membership on the 7th Army Parachute Team.
It was the end of the week, and Dad set aside time to fly for me at our farm. The convenience of having our own plane, runway and built-in DZ was huge. However, the time had gotten away from me when I noticed that it was 6:30 and I had a 7:00 p.m. date with my high school sweetheart, Ginger Uzendoski. She lived 17 miles away, the last seven of which were on a gravel road. I conferred with Dad, and he agreed that the quickest way to get there was by air.
With the modified transportation solution, I estimated that I would be only 15 minutes late. I called Ginger with the new plan but gave no real explanation. I told her just to stand out in the middle of the yard at 7:15 and I would be there. Hurriedly, I showered, dressed and drove the short distance back out to the runway and the waiting Cessna. I threw on my rig, and we were in the air in no time. It was to be my sixth jump of the day! Dad knew right where to fly, and we were soon at 5,300 feet over Ginger’s farm at the prescribed time. Since I had been jumping all afternoon, I knew how to gauge the winds. I gave Dad a couple of corrections, and then he cut the engine to make it easier for me to open the door for a clean exit. In a flash, I was out on a 20-second delay and uneventfully deployed the old 28-foot orange and white steerable canopy. After my exodus, Dad did a wingover and headed for home, low-level, where he was most comfortable flying. I easily landed in the horse corral, a little short of the big tree-lined farmyard with power lines where my date was waiting for me.
Ginger was thrilled and impressed by the uniqueness of my little escapade! In just a few minutes, I field-packed my parachute, zipped off my jumpsuit James Bond-style, and threw them in the trunk of her car. Not thinking anything of it, we headed into Fullerton and then on to dinner and a movie in Grand Island. Halfway into town, we met the entire volunteer fire department and rescue trucks going full-throttle on the way to a serious accident. As we pulled back onto the gravel road, we turned to each other and said that we hadn’t seen any indication of a fire anywhere. We wondered what the emergency was. Wow, whatever it was, it must be big to demand that amount of fanfare!
The next day Ginger called me with an update. As it turned out, a neighbor had called in the emergency report saying there was a catastrophic airplane crash because they heard the engine abruptly “stall” and saw the pilot bail out, plunge through the air and deploy his emergency parachute. At the same time, the plane suddenly turned and dove toward the ground. They thought the plane must surely be close by, but didn’t know exactly where it had impacted. I guess the fire chief thought they would just drive around long enough until they spotted a guy hitchhiking with a parachute over his shoulder or a column of black smoke from the wreckage. Everyone knows that airplanes always burst into flames and black smoke when they crash, so it shouldn’t be that hard to spot in broad daylight! What they needed was another airplane to find the site of the accident. Hey, you can’t make this stuff up!
Needless to say, I never pulled that little impromptu stunt again in Nance County. I didn’t relish the idea of dealing with the authorities or getting my name in the paper. I knew that with enough time, they were going to figure it out and be red-faced. As it turned out, it was excellent training for hundreds of other jumps that I was going to make in many tight and desperate places, not only in the United States but also in major European cities. I found it to be very exciting and challenging.
Randy Lippincott | D-2973