The Wedding

Among my odd and unusual occupations and pastimes has been as a pilot hauling skydivers. Now, anyone who would willingly jump out of a perfectly good airplane is highly in question anyway, but wanting to get married in the jump plane and leap hand in hand into marital bliss is something else.

It was getting late in the afternoon when a little fellow wearing a black suit and carrying a bible showed up at the airport and asked where he could find a certain couple. They were pointed out to him, busily packing their chutes for another jump. Turned out he was the preacher who was going to perform the ceremony. When he found that it was going to take place in an airplane in the sky, there was a considerable amount of renegotiating of his fee before he finally agreed. Then it was up to me as the pilot to fit him with a parachute and instruct him how to use it. It's FAA regulations that if one person in an airplane is wearing a chute, everyone has to have one.

The bride and groom changed from their usual jump suits into a wedding dress and tuxedo for the occasion. It took a considerable amount of folding, wadding and tucking to get a parachute strapped on over a wedding dress, which added considerably to the joyful and sometimes raucous atmosphere of the event.

Now to those who aren't familiar with jump planes, there is usually only one seat in them for the pilot and the jumpers sit on the floor. That, being the case with this ship, posed the first problem (after the chute fitting ordeal) with the minister. We seated him on a cushion in the back corner behind the pilot with a seat belt over his lap, which seemed to ease his fears a bit. Then the bride, groom and their witness climbed aboard. This made a total of five people aboard a Cessna 182 which is usually considered to be a four passenger ship but we were carrying only half a tank of fuel so weren't too much over gross.

As I taxied toward the runway, I could hear a certain amount of conversation going on behind me. It rapidly became loud enough to blank out the crackle of radio static in my headphones. Suddenly there was a lot of scuffling as the preacher began shucking off the chute as he climbed over everyone in an effort to get to the door. Somehow in the confusion, the rip cord got pulled on his chute and it exploded in a flurry of silk inside the cabin. I slammed on the brakes and pulled the mixture as he bailed out the door and went tumbling along on the ground. Fortunately he had fallen or the elevator would probably have hit him. As he was brushing himself off, I found out what had happened. Seems that he asked who was going to close the door and they told him that there was no door.

Negotiations started all over and it was finally settled that the happy couple would make their jump, land in the pea gravel pit and be married on the ground where the preacher was definitely going to stay.

I lined up for the jump run and as planned, the bride would get out on the step first, followed by the groom and they would leap hand in hand. I doubt that many wedding dress designers ever considered that their creation might have to stay down in a 65mph slipstream. She was frantically clinging to the strut as the dress became its own little parachute and headed north up under her armpits. Modesty was completely forgotten as she tried to keep from being blown off the step. All I can say is that it's fortunate that she was wearing panties and a bra. The groom finally made his way through the flapping dress to the proper position beside her and they dropped away. Their two witnesses tumbled after them.

In all the confusion, they missed their jump point by at least half a mile and she came down in a shallow lake which was mostly weeds and mud while he drifted into some high tension lines and his canopy collapsed over them, leaving him dangling thirty feet in the air. Fortunately some power company employees in a cherry picker truck had stopped to watch the jump and they rushed to his aid.

She gathered up her chute, along with lots of weeds, mud and a dead duck and waded ashore. She looked like a drowned rat when she finally got back to the field. They stood in the pea gravel pit, the minister joined them in holy matrimony, the jump day was declared to be over and the beer coolers were opened to celebrate their nuptials. As the preacher walked away, I heard him mutter, "Craziest bunch of people I ever saw."

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Copyright 2002 by Jim Foreman