By Richard McGuire
Pat Hampson, a former Oliver mayor and councillor, was soaring with joy when he received his 75th birthday present – quite literally.
Hampson’s wife Linda and daughter Tricia arranged a skydiving experience for him one Saturday at the end of August. When he hit the ground at the Oliver Airport, Hampson was grinning from ear to ear.
“That was a lot of fun and I don’t feel like throwing up,” said Hampson after a tandem jump with instructor Rocky Tyson. “I’m feeling good.”
Linda said she got the idea when she learned that Vernon-based Okanagan Skydive would be operating in Oliver for several weeks in August.
When Hampson turned 60, she got him a flight in a small plane and this, she said, was a 15-year follow-up.
His actual birthday was Sept. 12, but Okanagan Skydive was wrapping up its Oliver stint at the end of August.
“He likes presents like this,” Linda said. “He’s always been interested in aviation.”
Hampson grew up in Wales right next to Cheshire, England and at the end of an airplane maintenance aerodrome.
As a boy, he watched Lancasters, Lincolns, Mosquitoes and other aircraft flying over him to land.
The 17-year Oliver resident never had a chance to fly a plane, though he once had a brief chance to steer one.
But before Hampson could parachute to the ground, he had to go through a bit of training and get suited up.
Tyson showed him the tiny ledge over the right wheel of the little Cessna from which he would jump, demonstrating the positions Hampson should be in before the jump.
They then rehearsed on a mat before Hampson slipped into a bright red jumpsuit.
As Hampson prepared to board the plane, he was surprisingly cool for someone about to jump thousands of feet for the first time in his life.
“Actually, I don’t feel scared,” he said. “I’m just wondering how it’s going to be. I made the decision I would do it and I haven’t had any apprehension so far. Just a feeling of caution.”
Motioning at Tyson, he added, “I put my trust in him. If he’s prepared to do it, I guess I shouldn’t have a problem with it.”
It was a tight squeeze getting everyone onto the plane. Hampson would be jumping second after Abraham McNicoll Grajal, a young Oliver man doing a tandem jump with Bret Chalmers, the owner of Okanagan Skydive.
With pilot Ted Bates, that made five people on board.
It was at least 20 minutes from the time of takeoff to when the first jumper appeared as a tiny speck in the sky.
Wife Linda, daughter Tricia and granddaughter Brooklyn Ceholski expressed relief when they saw that Hampson’s pink parachute was open.
As he glided down with Tyson on his back, he came into view enough that his beaming smile was visible.
After landing, Hampson admitted that the only time he had any second thoughts was when he stepped out onto the little ledge over the wheel in preparation to jump.
“That’s when I thought, ‘Oh my God, what am I doing here?’” he said.
Once he jumped, he experienced free-fall for close to 35 seconds before the parachute opened at about 5,000 feet.
“The wind impact was really high and you get buffeted around,” he said. “Once the chute kicked in, I could see everything. Rocky let me control it and I made a couple of turns, which was neat. All in all it was a great experience and the guys were really good instructors.”
Chalmers, the owner of Okanagan Skydive, says more than three quarters of his customers are trying it for the first time.
“For some people, it’s a one-time thing,” he said. “Other people come maybe once a year and then we’ve also got a large group of recreational skydivers.”
The experience for every beginner is different, he said.
“Some people find it exhilarating and surprisingly some people find it quite calming,” said Chalmers. “It’s typically less scary than most think it will be. I think every day we hear somebody or more than one person say they just had the best time of their lives.”
Although some customers may be a bit nervous, Chalmers only recalls one who actually chickened out among the close to 5,000 people he’s taken up.
Okanagan Skydive has now left Oliver, but Chalmers said people can still parachute with them in Vernon for a spectacular view of Kalamalka Lake and the Monashee Mountains.
As for Hampson, would he do it again?
“Yes, probably I would,” he said. “But I’m not going to make any guarantees.”
Still, it was a thrilling and memorable experience.
“That was a great birthday present,” he said. “My wife and daughter decided on a good thing for me.”