In February, I survived a low-altitude canopy collision with another parachutist while skydiving at a busy drop zone in Southern California. We wrapped and came spinning down to crash land on an RV supply parts warehouse. I punched a hole through the roof and was knocked unconscious, yet miraculously, the worst injury I suffered was a badly broken wrist. The other jumper hit a second or two after me and broke two ribs.
“Every man dies, but not every man really lives,” is a quote from the movie “Braveheart” but could easily apply to the group of friends I have been honored to know and perform with in this perhaps strange but compellingly thrilling sport.
There was not enough room in the October issue’s “Profile” of B.J. Worth by Brian Giboney to include this anecdote, so we are printing it here. Worth was responding to Giboney’s question, “What’s your best bonfire story about being James Bond’s stunt double?”
During production on the movie “Drop Zone” (starring Wesley Snipes and Gary Busey), the good guys needed to catch the bad guy as he was escaping on foot within a forest of skyscrapers. The plan was for the non-aerial stunt team to rappel down the building and jump on the bad guy (played by former jumper Michael Jeter). During a production meeting with the director, I casually mentioned that a good guy could ground launch from the top of the building and swoop down and catch Jeter in a scissor grip with his legs. The director bought it and changed the script. The regular stunt team was not amused and more than a bit skeptical.
Shooting skydiving on film—true film—has a long history. Nearly at our sport’s inception, freefall cinematographers captured it this way. It was the only way to show a skydive in motion. Many of the early movie cameras used in freefall were World War II military surplus, just like early parachute gear. These were gun cameras, which the military mounted on aircraft guns to record a minute or so of footage when the weapon fired.
They look over their shoulders and see me, a ginormous, unholy, nylon-flapping creature of some kind that has no right in Mother Nature’s world to be flying above them.
In 1964, I launched my magazine, DZ-USA, to promote the sport and contribute something other than doomsday predictions at a time when the man on the street viewed a parachutist as a daredevil looking for a place to die. In that same year, I was invited to appear on “The Joey Bishop Show” in Hollywood to represent the sport. There, I met John Frankenheimer, who was promoting his movie “Grand Prix,” and Lyle Cameron, who produced Skydiver magazine. John was very interested in what Lyle and I had to say about the sport. He stated that he’d always wanted to make a movie about it and would contact us if a future project came up.
As a SoCal jumper, I don't have to worry that much about landing in trees or anything green. So I took seriously memorizing the DZ's aerial photo (the kind all DZs have hanging near manifest) when I went jumping in Maine. I knew where all the tree groves were, along with power lines, ditches and other obstructions. After a couple of jumps, I got comfy with the landing pattern, and I felt I knew my way around.
Fifteen minutes of fame. Everybody will have it once. I had mine in 1987 because I saved a life while skydiving.
At the 2015 Turkey Meet at Skydive City Zephyrhills in Florida, my canopy collapsed at 20 feet as I was coming in on final. I broke the fibula at my left ankle and dislocated and fractured my tibia. The abrupt plunge also caused intense fear and anxiety about skydiving. Mechanical turbulence caused the accident: I landed close to the hangar and the wind rolling over it and into the landing area collapsed my parachute.
It was the seventh jump of the day for our newly formed and unnamed 4-way formation skydiving team. A normal jump on a normal training day. It was the scariest jump I’ve ever been on.
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