Like many of you, l have recently returned from a family vacation and therefore have not really had time to slip back into ‘grumpy old git’ mode and get steamed up about anything. I will hang onto this dreamy state for as long as possible (l would give it another hour!).
Therefore, l bring you a testament to the indomitable human spirit and that need to do more, go further and push those boundaries as far as humanly possible.
In my youth l was called a homicidal risk taker and considered slightly deranged as l could never refuse a bet, a challenge or a frenetic response to anyone who would utter those dangerous words, ‘it can’t be done.’
I dived with over 2000 Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks in Baja, l rode a 10mt Whale Shark in the Red Sea, l jumped from a 6th-floor hotel balcony into a swimming pool, missing the tiled edge by less than 2cm, l rolled a cigarette on a motorbike at 85mph on the M4, l climbed into the rear seat of a Jensen Interceptor at 140mph on the Millbrook parabolic banked circuit, l was left in the Sinai desert with no water or food for 4 days to ‘find myself’, l sat at the bottom of the Blue Hole in Belize on straight-air scuba at over 110 metres, l remained when everyone else left during a total of five hurricanes, two of which were killer Category-5, and l waterskied to France in a Force 6 gale. So, l have done my share of stupid stunts, but a chap called Luke Aikin makes me look like a decrepit granny with a walking frame.
Mr Aikin was challenged to jump out of a perfectly serviceable aeroplane at 25,000ft – which, of course, is really no biggie. The challenge was to do it without a parachute. Sorry, without a what?!
No parachute, no wingsuit - just jump.
The idea was to jump into a massive, 10,000 sq ft, net strung across a section of a Californian desert. Bearing in mind that, from 25,000ft, (that’s 4.7 miles) a massive net looks like a grain of sand - in fact, it could not even be seen for the first 15,000ft of the jump. If, in the unlikely event he actually hit the net at 150mph, it would then stop his descent only 65ft from the ground. During testing, when they dropped a Luke-sized object into the net from only 10,000 ft, it burst straight through and shattered into pieces on the earth beneath.
He finally jumped along with three other team members - one to film, one to pump smoke for the ground team and one to collect Luke’s discarded oxygen tank. Yes, it was required at 25,000 ft, the height that Everest climbers call the Death Zone, and it was minus 17c. All three buddies deployed their chutes at 5,000 ft and from there, he was alone and travelling at 150mph.
His only aid was a system called PAPI, possibly standing for the blood-curdling scream he let out in wishing his Dad had stopped him from doing this, but which actually means Precision Approach Path Indicator. This is similar to the system used by pilots to guide planes onto their landing spot. At 12,000ft the device sounded a beep alerting him that he was at the half way point, followed by another beep at 6,000ft, and a final alert at 2,000ft, no doubt informing him that death was imminent. Eight high-tech lights on the ground in formation were his only other visual clues as to where he was going, and small movements of his body the only steering method.
The postage stamp-sized net was strung between four huge cranes connected to four compressed air cylinders that would slow him down once he hit the net, much as you would catch an egg in your hand. Oh, and the only way to survive the impact was to twist around and land on his back in the last 500ft!
After a 2-minute, 9-second descent, he landed in the net and broke just about every record in the book, much to the relief of his family. Mind you, they share the same deranged gene, as Luke’s mother completed six skydiving jumps whilst pregnant with Luke.
This human trait of going where no man has gone before is what got us to the moon, developed penicillin and located the Titanic. Without it, we would still be swinging from the trees or grunting in a cave.
Thank heavens for people like Luke Aikin.