Mark Stevens’ Solent and District REA Tandem Skydive for Sapper Support
On the Saturday evening of the REA Minley weekend in 2019, I found myself chatting in the bar with Sergeant Jase Hughes of the RE Skydive Team and other members of the Solent and District Branch. From this conversation came the idea of the branch having a tandem skydive day to raise funds for charity. Seemed like a good idea in the bar!
The idea was passed around and we had several willing volunteers, wanting to take part and we initially organised the day for mid-august 2020, we had even selected a military charity the branch members would like to support, Sapper Support. Then Covid struck! Our tandem skydive day along with most of the branch activities had to be put on hold, until restrictions were lifted, to enable us to jump out of a perfectly serviceable aircraft.
The rearranged date was set for Saturday 4th September 2021 and the numbers of willing participants had dropped to three. Mark “Chairman” Stevens, Mark “Lenny” Leonard and Tom “Bubbles” Bath were the brave souls headed to Netheravon, on a bright sunny Saturday morning to meet up with Sergeant Jase Hughes and the rest of the Royal Engineers Skydive team. We were introduced to our Tandem instructor Sargent Neil De Wit and our cameraman Corporal Clint McKenzie.
After checking in and a short training session in the main hanger it was time to have a sit down and contemplate what we were there to do, but that didn’t last for long as Neil De Wit, came up and said “Right Mark, your up first. You ready to go?” Absolutely let’s do this! So, of into the hanger to be fitted with the tandem harness and a quick practice on the hanger to show I was able to lift my legs up for the landing position, and we were headed out to the aircraft to get on board and head up to 14,000 feet.
Corporal Clint McKenzie gave me a quick interview on camera, asking why am I doing this etc. before climbing onboard with several others jumping in our stick. I was to be the first tandem jump so I was the last to climb on board and get as comfortable as possible for the short flight up to our jumping altitude of 14,000 feet. I was quite calm and relaxed until the red light turned to green and the revs of the engine were turned down and the door rolled open. Then I only had a very quick moment to ask myself “What the hell am I doing here?!” then we were in the doorway holding the straps of my harness looking up and left and the next thing I know we are tumbling out of the aircraft doing a somersault or two before coming under control in the free fall position. Now for those of you that have never skydived before, this is a very strange sensation as it does not feel like you are falling. It feels like you are laid there in a high wind on a cushion of air. Waving at Clint the cameraman in front of you, grinning like a Cheshire cat.
All too quickly the parachute is opened and Neil handed over control of the parachute to me shortly afterward, getting me to perform some spin turns left and right on our way down, it was during these I thought I might see my breakfast again! Then it was time to lift my legs up into the landing position and land with a small bump on the grassy landing area.
Mark “Lenny” Leonard was next up and we waved him off and wished him luck and he went on his way with a slightly nervous smile and thumbs up, 20 minutes later he was back on the ground with a big smile on his face, grateful his experience was over. Tom “Bubbles” Bath followed and was the third tandem jump out of his stick, which he said scared him more after seeing two others jump before him, however, jump he did and landed with a big beaming smile to round off our tandem jumps.
Then a time for a few pictures taken with the Royal Engineers Skydive Team before leaving Netheravon and the team to continue their weekend of skydive training.
The charity we were supporting is Sapper Support, and they provide a 24/7 PTSD helpline, manned by volunteers to support and assist Serving Military, Veterans and Emergency Services (Police, Fire Service and Ambulance Service) and provides emotional and physical support to sufferers of PTSD and other associated mental health issues. They can be contacted by phone on 0800 040 7873 or 0800 040 7783 or by text 07860 018733. Further information can be found at the website: https://sappersupport.com/ or donate at: https://www.justgiving.com/sapper-support
At the time of writing our just-giving page was at £1195 of our £1000 fundraising target.