There I Was: Bungee jumping from a tandem (doh!)

Thursday 20 March, 2003

Skip forward to 2.47 to see someone actually bungee jump from a tandem paraglider… filmed in 2010

Bungee jumping from a tandem paraglider isn’t too hard. Landing safely afterwards however though is a far more hazardous pastime, reckons Turkish tandem pilot Semih Sahir. He gives a bounce-by-bounce account of his near-death experience. Published in Cross Country magazine in 2003

There I was, at 2,500 feet, hanging upside down under a paraglider with a bungee rope attached to my ankles. At this point, I suddenly realised the landing was going to be rather more difficult than I thought. How on Earth did I end up here?

The idea of doing a bungee jump from a paraglider came about when one of the Turkish bungee jumping companies gave me a bungee cord. At the time my commercial tandem flights off Olu Deniz, Turkey, had become a bit of a routine and we were trying to spice things up a bit.

I discussed the idea with Murat Tuzer, who I’d decided was a good pilot for the job. We mulled over all the things that might go wrong with a view to ensuring they didn’t. We considered how the changing forces would affect the glider’s airspeed and pitch, and also the likely effects of centrifugal forces when the glider turned.

These would probably be quite considerable, as the stretched bungee would be nearly 150 feet long. We worked out plans for every eventuality – I even had a quick-release on my ankles so that I could undo them once I’d stopped bouncing, as the plan was for me to land on my feet and run after the glider till it landed safely.

I wondered what I would do if I landed facing backwards, but discounted that, as there was only a 50% chance of it happening. Obviously, failing to keep up with the wing during the landing would cause the glider to dive forward in a downplane till the pilot slammed into the ground.

I told Murat that if I had a trouble with the quick release, he should land me in the water. I also told him to avoid sharp turns so that I would not pendulum and bounce on landing. The last thing I wanted was to crash into an obstacle while swinging under a glider!

As soon as we were happy with the theory, we spent the next day setting up the bungee cord, bridles and working out how it would all attach to the carabiners.

We had enough wind for an easy launch. It was a little difficult to sit in the harness with the bungee wrapped around my neck though. It took only five minutes to arrive over the water where we planned to do the jump.

Up to this point I had full trust in my pilot and his capability and skills. I undid my harness straps and let go, going into a headlong dive towards the sea. I was weightless for a few seconds, then, aaaaarrgghh, I was coming back up again. Great, the bungee line held, as did the bridles attached to the carabiners.

We slowly made our way towards the beach, descending to 2,000 feet. At this point I tried to free my ankles using the quick release system, but it was extremely difficult to reach them – not easy like when I had practised this hanging under the tree!

When I realised the quick release was not functioning, I yelled to Murat to land me in the sea. How difficult could this be? Our worst case scenario was actually happening.

There was a crowd of hundreds on the beach, including EuroSport cameras filming one of the early aerobatics shows. Andy Heidegger was cheering the crowd along while I was approaching the beach – still upside down. What is Murat trying to do, why doesn’t he land me in the water? Hasn’t he heard what I shouted?

I suddenly realised during Murat’s final approach for landing that I was going right into the middle of the crowd, still yo-yoing up and down. Murat finally initiated a turn to make his final approach into the wind with lots of speed and me still swinging. There was no way we could land like this and nothing I could do but dangle and wait till it happened.

Meanwhile, some of the guys who knew what we were trying to do ran up and down the beach trying to catch me before I hit the ground.

Just like my pilot, they misjudged things and missed me. The last thing I saw was the ground rushing up at my face as I desperately tried to grab my ankles again to avoid hitting the ground head first. I slammed in on my back, had all the wind knocked out of me, was wonderfully still for a second, then shot straight back up 10 feet in the air. Then slammed down again.

I dimly recall this happening at least two more times and then getting dragged along by the tandem which, to Murat’s horror, was starting to downplane towards the beach. Murat was desperately hauling on the brakes to kill the dive before he thudded into the beach, winded like me but otherwise OK.

Meanwhile, Andy was shouting on the microphone, “Semmiii you craaazzzyyy maan!”

I later asked Murat why he hadn´t landed me into the water. His response was: “It wouldn’t look cool.”

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