Planes, Chutes, and Mortar Shells

Not many people are willing to jump out of a plane with nothing but some cloth and string strapped to their backs. Of those who are willing, almost all would want to be strapped to someone who knows what they are doing.  The first time Antonio “Tony” Rivera jumped out of a plane, he was not attached to anyone.1 You see the friend2 who took him was acquainted with the people who worked at the company. So to save Tony some money in getting him certified, they let him pass over the first two tandem jumps.3 Instead, they just had him watch a video of everything that could possibly go wrong, and then wait all day to do the jump. 

Finally the time came. Tony, his buddy, and two instructors boarded the tiny Cessna plane and took a nerve-wracking twenty-minute flight, the plane bouncing around the whole way. Finally after twenty awkward minutes of trying to sit comfortably with a parachute on his back, the signal was given. They reached altitude and the pilot cut the engine. The plane glided forward and back down toward the earth.

It was time to jump. The first instructor got out and held on to the plane. Tony moved to stand at the exit. The second instructor and his buddy were behind him. He made eye contact with both the instructors, nodded, and the first instructor let go of the plane. All that was left to do was jump.

And so he jumped, from twelve thousand feet in the air, for the very first time.

Of course they didn’t let him jump completely alone. The second instructor jumped after him, and then both instructors took a hold of straps on the side of his pants to control his descent.

After successfully completing his touches to the ripcord and checking his altitude, it was time to pull the parachute.  This is where he encountered a problem. On most parachutes, the ripcord that deploys the chute is attached to a spring. It cannot be fully removed from the pack. The one on Tony’s pack was not. So when he pulled the cord, it directly pulled the chute. He was supposed to hold on to it. The parachute deployed as it was supposed to, but the ripcord didn’t survive. 

And for all this, it was only the second most memorable flight he has been on.

The most memorable flight was the flight from Bagram airfield, Afghanistan to Panjshir, Afghanistan, where he was stationed as an army combat medic.4

The flight itself was not the memorable part. The old 1960’s era Boeing Chinook helicopter did its job just fine in delivering them to their base. The more memorable part was the man sitting next to him. The man was panicking about getting shelled or shot out of the sky the whole flight. Tony was not amused at all. When they were landing in Panjshir Valley and the man saw the remnants of many Soviet helicopters that had been shot down, he only panicked more.5 On the following Friday, his scared companions' nightmares came true. A mortar shell hit them.

It was one shell and it didn’t hit anything, but it did wake them up. Moments after waking up and trying to figure out what woke him, Tony heard a loud scuffling from across the hall. He looked out his door to see the scared man from the flight running down the hallway in full gear. He saw another head peep out of a doorway and asked that person what happened. The response was, “I think we just got mortared.”

The base had not been mortared in six months, so everyone was confused. They had to get dressed in full gear and spend the next few hours making sure everything was all right. The shell had come close to hitting the gas tank on the west side of the base, but no damage was done. 

These flights are the reason Tony never wants to fly again.6 He says that whenever he is forced to fly, he remembers the stress of those flights.


[1] He apparently has coconuts big enough that no swallow, African or European, could carry them—not even two such swallows with a rope tied between two of them.

[2] Code-named: moron with a death wish for himself and his friends. He is the kind of man that, when faced with giant Godzilla-like monsters rising from the sea, would decide to build equally giant robots to fight them with.

[3] This is totally and completely illegal. Kids, don’t do this.

[4] Also known as The Valley of the Five Lions.

[5] This valley is where most of the 1980’s Soviet/Afghan conflict was fought.

[6] Even though he gets to surpass TSA. Lucky bastard.


Greta Foltos is a writer and college student from the Seattle area. She never ever wants to jump out of a plane, or have mortar shells fired at her general vicinity.  

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