Saturday Story

Free Fall

I was working as an “in-house” investigator for a well-known local attorney when one day, a Thursday, he announced that he and two of his friends were going sky diving on Saturday. Did I want to join them?

I did. So that Saturday my girlfriend and I joined them and by the end of the day everyone had made their first sky dive jump. These were all “singles” not tandems. That meant we spent the entire day learning the rights and wrongs before making our jumps in the afternoon.

“Jump Hawaii” was the child of Byron Black, a retired U.S.Air Force pilot, graduate of Texas A&M, and an all-around nice guy.

In fact, the entire Black family was involved. Sons Danny and Bobby we the co-pilots, jump trainers, chute packers and ground radio operators. Byron’s wife Tess handled the books, the ads, and all the assorted paperwork.

There really wasn’t enough jump business so during the week Byron and the boy’s would fly in search of schools of fish and then direct the fishing boats to the catch. It paid the bills. And they were all happy doing what they loved.

I made a number of jumps with Byron and the group, sometimes spending the entire weekend jumping and camping out. It was great. And the regular jumpers all had biker like nicknames; Big Ugly, Aquaman, Moriarity, and Whitney.

What held all these diverse people together was the love of the freedom of the sky. They respected each other and partied as hard as any group of men and women I’ve ever known.

It was December 5, 1981, when this took place. I had been re-instated in the Police Department, just in time for the Holiday’s. I’d been working a little overtime from the day watch, so I got home just in time to catch the 10 o’clock news. I sat there in shock and not wanting the news to be true.

The “twin Beechcraft” airplane belonging to jump Hawaii, with eleven jumpers, a pilot and co-pilot aboard, had been scheduled to to fly over the Honolulu Stadium during a football game half time , the sky divers would jump, and land in the field waving flags and doing sky diver acrobatics. Something had gone horribly wrong.

According to witnesses, while making a climbing turn, the plane suddenly started to spin, turning nose down, and had crashed into Pearl Harbor. In had crashed into the shallows, less than 5 feet of water and just yards from the Arizona memorial. Only one jumper had managed to get out, everyone else had died.

Byron’s wife Tess was sitting in the stadium announcer’s booth and had watched the plane go down. She could see it almost all the way down. She watched as twelve jumpers, friends, and loved ones were gone in minutes. Then someone spotted the one open chute coming down.

The night watch on the U.S. ships in Pearl Harbor sounded “General Quarters” and then had launched rescue boats as soon as it became known what had happened. They rescued the one jumper that managed to get out. He was suffering from multiple leg fractures from where the tail section of the spinning aircraft  had struck his leg as he jumped from the open door.

He was also killed in a skydiving accident less then two years later. Guilt? I hope  not.

For her 40th birthday, I took Julie to Dillingham Air Field and showed her the big rock with the names engraved in the honor of those jumpers.

I told her the whole story and then she made her 1st jump. I told you, she’s way tough.

A couple years later, we took our son and daughter out there. I again told the story, and then they made their jumps. Like their mom, tough.

There is much more sadness surrounding this story, but this is enough.

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