“My greatest jump in the Army? OK,” said Hans Nielsen, board member at Skydive Fargo. “It was an early morning dive, just south of Mount Kenya. Our plane had slowed down to 130 knots, and I and the 62 other men in my unit were all jumping out, one by one. While we were in midair, a herd of about 100 zebra, spooked by our plane’s shadow, all charged across our landing zone. They were long gone by the time we hit the ground, but I’ll never forget the sight of them as we floated down from the sky.”
When Hans transitioned to civilian life after his 12 years of service as a U.S. Army paratrooper, he still loved nothing more than jumping out of planes, and had to find another way to do it. Fortunately there was Skydive Fargo, a community-run skydiving club that operates out of West Fargo Municipal Airport. “Skydiving here is a lot easier than for the Army,” Hans explained. “Our planes are going a lot slower when you jump, and you don’t have to strap about a hundred pounds of gear to yourself before jumping. Jumping without the rifle saves about eight pounds alone.”
“I have a fairly boring day job,” Hans continued. “But when I jump, I get to live entirely in the moment. Taxes, bills, all of my responsibilities instantly fade away while I’m plummeting to earth at 125 mph, powered by nothing more than gravity and adrenaline. You would need a car or a motorcycle to go that fast otherwise, but when you’re falling you’re totally free. Then you get to save your own life.”
Skydive Fargo has operated as a not-for-profit club since the inception of Valley Skydivers in 1967. With their Super Cessna 182 and Cessna 206, they offer tandem dives, demonstration jumps, and skydiving training to anyone in the greater Fargo area who wants to jump out of a plane.
“Most people come to us because they’ve thought about skydiving for a long time, and have finally come to the realization that they have to experience it,” Hans explained. “They want to do something totally unlike they’ve ever done before — an impulse after a lot of meditation.”
“For a first-timer, skydiving is one of the few ways you can confront real fear — but we’re not pushy. The other day I had someone up for their first dive. He was a smart guy, a thinker, and extremely anxious about taking the plunge. He couldn’t bring himself to do it. So I closed the door, and we circled the plane around in a big circle while I explained all of his training to him again — the safety protocols, the things we do if something should happen to go wrong, and how infinitesimally small the chances of anything going wrong really are. He just needed that little bit of extra counseling, because rather than take the long way down, he finally opted for the direct and far more rewarding approach.”
“We will never push you out. Well…that’s not entirely true. It’s too dangerous to go back in once you’re already leaning outside of the aircraft. In that case you can’t turn back, so if you have second thoughts at that point, we’ll give you what we consider to be a ‘safety nudge’ in the right direction!”
Most people choose to take their first dive as a tandem. Having an experienced instructor attached to your back will be far more useful in this situation than, say, the pile of ammunition and MREs that Hans had during his Army days. After a half hour of instruction, you will be flown up to 10,000 feet. From there you’ll jump out, hurtle back toward Mother Earth for 45 seconds of pure freefall, and then spend the final five to seven minutes delicately dangling from a high tech zero-porosity nylon fabric canopy until you plunk down at the 15’ landing zone.
After their first jump, many people continue on to take Skydive Fargo’s comprehensive United States Parachute Association classes so they can skydive alone, from higher altitudes, and in a longer freefall. “We’re not a commercial operation,” Hans concluded. “We’re here just because we love skydiving, and want to share it with the world. The world would be a much poorer place without it.” To learn more about skydiving, visit skydivefargo.com.
By David Scheller