Tales from the Bonfire | Feb 01, 2019
The Fun Life of a TV Anchor

Arch Deal

“Every man dies, but not every man really lives,” is a quote from the movie “Braveheart” but could easily apply to the group of friends I have been honored to know and perform with in this perhaps strange but compellingly thrilling sport.

It began in this manner: As an Air Force veteran, private pilot and TV news anchor, I wondered why people were jumping out of perfectly good airplanes. I was puzzled by this strange activity, which some incorrectly call a death wish. (It is really a thrilling extension of life.) To research the subject, I decided to do a mini-documentary on these crazy people. Just 35 miles north of the TV station was the jump orchard called Zephyrhills [now Skydive City Zephyrhills in Florida]. I quickly found myself around a lot of very friendly men and women practicing this sport.

In doing the video program, I was eventually talked into experiencing just one static-line jump. Amazingly, it was out the door I went! Looking up, my feeling was, “OMG, it’s open!” (Many of you perhaps remember the same thrill and delight.) Simply stated, I was hooked. Suddenly, I found a new love in life, and it wasn’t wearing a skirt!

I also loved the television business. However, you are only as good as your last ratings, so I started to make demonstration jumps as the less-than-sane TV anchor who skydives. After amassing a few hundred jumps, I planned a spectacular jump into the 1975 Summer Festival at the old Cypress Gardens, which was the major central-Florida attraction prior to Disney World. Vacationers packed the venue to watch the waterski show and the added attraction: skydivers. I planned to do a solo jump out of a Cessna 182, land and then narrate the descent of the three other jumpers. After the wind-drift indicator landed, I picked my exit point over a mature orange grove. Then the show became too spectacular.

Exiting at 3,000 feet, I delayed five seconds and pulled the ripcord. The pilot chute went up and came back down, and the bag containing my main went up. Immediately the pilot chute bridle wrapped around the bag, locking it shut. Time to cut away the main and go for the reserve. Unfortunately, my Capewell release (standard prior to introduction of the 3-ring release but not as reliable) did not release the left side of my main, making my situation more difficult. I pulled out my belly-mount reserve and threw it, as taught, in the direction of my spin. Sadly, the reserve just wrapped around the lines of the main, giving me a double streamer. Not a pretty sight. I figured this was not going to be one of my better days.

I didn’t panic; if you panic, you kick and scream until impact. I spent my time yanking and pulling (and quickly praying) until impact. Fortunately, I fell between the old, mature, cement-hard trees. The result was a broken neck, six broken ribs, a broken back and a separated pelvis … but I was alive!

Overhead, the rest of the team followed my unintended freefall and told the pilot to land so they could look for the body. When they found me, I complained, “The show should have continued! Hunt for the body later!” With them was a photographer whom I had asked to get a picture of my descent into the Gardens. Instead he went for coffee, but he did get my picture in the citrus grove.

I mended well enough to go back to anchoring the news in the Tampa Bay area three months after the accident. Though some questioned my sanity, I decided to jump again at the same spot, one year later to the minute. Why not? What else could go wrong?

On June 22, 1976, I performed the same jump with the same plan but without the malfunction. Every major TV network was there. Everything went even better than I had hoped. Miller Brewing Company offered me a position as one of the Lite Beer All-Stars (alongside John Madden, Mickey Spillane, Rodney Dangerfield, Bob Uecker and 4-time world surfing champion Corky Carroll). It became a dream job, and I made skydives into most of the stadiums in America for football games, motocross, etc. The job included going on more than a dozen Miller Lite cruises, lots of Miller Lite beer and great compensation! A dream of a “job”!

In all, I amassed more than 5,000 jumps since the bounce. Recently, I celebrated 43 years since the big impact … with, of course, a big party.

Arch Deal D-3580
Odessa, Florida

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