Women enjoy thrill of skydiving

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 7/28/99.

Floating in air Five area women tried a new experience on Sunday, July 11. They headed to Hutchinson to try skydiving.

The group of relatives, three sisters, a daughter, and sister-in-law made the jump. "The Orbeck family always does things together and this time we picked skydiving," Betty Orbeck, St. Martin, said. "This was our first outing without men involved. We couldn't talk our husbands into trying this venture with us. A couple of the men had no desire to even watch."

Rhonda Nietfeld, Paynesville, wrote a letter to the group in April suggesting they try skydiving. She made the arrangements.

Accepting the challenge were: Betty Orbeck, Betty (Orbeck) Schmidt, Mary (Orbeck) Nietfeld, Rhonda Nietfeld (Mary's daughter), and Luann Orbeck. Luann is the only one who had parachuted before (in Michigan where she lives).

Jumpmasters hold onto Betty Schmidt prior to the opening of her parachute canopy.

The training
The group was required to take eight hours of training before they could go up in an airplane. They also had to pass a practical and written test before they were allowed to make their jump.

Schmidt said during the training they would flash aerial photos overhead to get a person used to the open sky. "They made sure you knew what to do in case your parachute canopy malfunctioned. A person needed to know if the situation was fixable or if you needed to deploy your reserve chute.

"The training was pretty intense," Betty Orbeck said. "They explained the purpose of every item on our jump suit and why the parachutes were rolled up the way they were. The training was much more involved than I thought it would be."

"The instructors walked us through the entire procedure from getting into the plane to how we would get out of the plane and onto the wing," Rhonda said.

"Prior to the jump, we all talked about what we were afraid of," Rhonda said. One of Rhonda's fears came true as her parachute lines were twisted upon opening. "I did what the instructors had taught me to do. It was difficult but you can do it if you have to," she added. "I will always wonder what would have happened if I hadn't been able to straighten my lines."

A social worker with the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School District, she had told one of her student's families what she was going to do. "I think they were more nervous about the jump than I was," Rhonda said. "My students were wondering who would be their teacher. I told them I would be back, that nothing was going to happen to me."

Rose Eakins of Skydive of Hutchinson said they pilot about 10,000 skydivers a year. Of that number 250 do accelerated free fall, 900 tandems, and the rest of the jumps are done by experienced jumpers. Tandem is when you jump with an instructor with a parachute built for two.

"Skydivers come in all shapes and sizes, all ages and occupations," Eakins said. Their oldest skydiver was 86. They won't take anybody younger than 18 up to skydive or anyone over 230 pounds. Their equipment isn't designed to handle heavier people.

"We were really pleased to have a group of women take the training," she said. "We seldom get an all female group. There are usually men taking the class as well."

Eakins added they discourage people with back problems from skydiving.

The dive
Before the jumper even leaves the airplane, their jumpmasters ask if they are ready. "They don't ask twice," Schmidt said. "Once you are out on the wing, there is no turning back. The wind speed is about 120 miles per hour on the wing."

Each woman did an accelerated free fall. They exited the airplane at 12,000 feet with two jumpmasters to guide them through about 50 seconds of free fall. The jumpmasters hold onto the diver, watch each move, and assist when needed. The jump-masters are in radio contact with the jumpers at all times.

"It was an intense surrealistic experience," Schmidt said. "The free fall goes fast."

Schmidt said the hardest part of the jump was getting out on the wing of the plane. "You feel the wind rushing at you and everything on the ground looks so little. Hitting something on the ground isn't even a thought. Once your canopy opens, you have a quiet ride to earth," Schmidt said.

"I've flown lots of times in small planes, but there is no comparison to jumping," Schmidt added.

"I won't say I wasn't scared. Part of the challenge is overcoming your fear of jumping," Schmidt said. "The first time you get a big sensory overload."

Schmidt explained the instructors kept reminding them that six seconds is a lot of time to check things once they jump out of the airplane. "They stress a person needs to think through the routine of things to check over, and not to over- react before pulling the ripcord," Schmidt added.

"If your parachute hasn't opened by the time you reach 1,000 feet, a reserve chute automatically deploys," Schmidt said.

Schmidt added that a person floating to earth gets a very smooth ride down, your biggest jolt is when you hit the ground on your landing.

The group was told that if the wind speed was more than 15 miles per hour, they wouldn't be able to jump. By the time evening arrived, the wind speed had died down and they were able to make their jumps. Betty Orbeck had the first jump at about 5:15 p.m. Schmidt made the last jump at 8:15 p.m.

"Everybody wanted to be the first to jump," Betty Orbeck said. "We drew names to see who went when."

Being the first one to jump, Betty Orbeck had the opportunity to watch the others jump. The flying school, Skydive of Hutchinson, has three airplanes which took turns taking the women up.

"I wasn't scared until I looked out the door and was about to step out onto the wing. I think my biggest fear was hitting the ground wrong," Betty Orbeck said.

"I always knew I wouldn't back out, but that doesn't mean I wasn't scared," she added. "However, the trainer (jump-master) had their hands on us at all times until we pulled our ripcord. The trainers kept you psyched up so you wouldn't change your mind."

Her husband, Dennis, was there to watch. "He has been very supportive of whatever I do. He knew I have talked about wanting to do this for years," Betty Orbeck said.

Skydiving group The skydiving group consisted of Orbeck relatives (L to R): Betty Schmidt, Rhonda Nietfeld, LuAnn Orbeck, Mary Nietfeld, and Betty Orbeck.

Luann Orbeck arrived by train on Saturday from Michigan in order to make the jump with her sisters on Sunday. However, she had to head back home on Monday.

She had told the others that if they were in Michigan they wouldn't have been able to make the jump as the rules and regulations are different in each state.

Luann Orbeck had made a static line jump prior to this jump. A static line jump is where the parachute opens automatically as you exit the airplane.

Mary Nietfeld said she was scared yet excited when her daughter Rhonda called to see if she would make the jump.

Mary said she would love to get beyond student status. Nietfeld explained that a person needs to make seven jumps to get beyond student status. With each jump, you are allowed to maneuver more and try more things.

"The free fall was undescribable," she said. "It was terrifying and thrilling. You have the fast rushing of air until your canopy opens, then it's a peaceful ride to earth. I didn't want it to end. Once you jump, all you see is horizon and sky until you get your bearings. It was hard to move on the wing. The wind was physically pushing you against the plane."

"During your jump you have to stay focused on what you are doing. A person needs to trust everything you have been taught by your instructors," Mary Nietfeld said.

Rhonda Nietfeld knew she would have a hard time stepping out onto the wing as it was a long ways down to the ground and she had a fear of falling.

Three of the five women said they couldn't wait to head back for a second jump, which they are scheduled to do on Aug. 8. "We are ready and anxious to do it again," Betty Schmidt and Mary Nietfeld said.

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