Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

I’ll be keeping my feet firmly on the ground from now on

Frances Burscough

Well folks I did it. I actually did it. I jumped out of a plane at 15,000 feet and lived to tell the tale.

Although friends and family were openly laying bets that I would chicken out at the eleventh hour, I soared like an eagle and proved them all wrong. And, quite frankly, no-one was more surprised than me.

So how did I find myself — a woman who's morbidly terrified of flying — at the crack of dawn on an October morning, strapped in tandem to a stranger high above the clouds, preparing to make the ultimate leap of faith into the freezing abyss? And, more importantly, why?

Well, someone asked me. It was as simple as that. And, as you know by now, I'm just a girl who can't say no.

The people at ViewDigital.Org (an online publication for the community & voluntary sector) had been approached by the Meningitis Research Foundation, who were looking for a volunteer to raise money and awareness of their campaign in one fell swoop. All they needed was a daredevil guinea pig with writing skills and a bit of a public profile. Who better than the woman from Weekend Magazine whose gung-ho approach to column inches appears to know no bounds?

So naturally, without thinking too much about it, I said yes. As I could see it, there were three possible outcomes:

1) I would do it with great aplomb, make loads of money and cure my fear once and for all.

2) I would do it, die in the process due to catastrophic human error (theirs, not mine) and/or equipment failure and thus become a national hero who sacrificed her life for a good cause.

3) I would freak out like a total wimp on the airfield tarmac and have to return to the hangar, hanging my head in shame, then refund all the sponsors out of my own pocket.

I was going to try and aim for option 1. The only thing that might get in my way was my total, crippling, abject terror. So, I decided not to worry about that until nearer the time and just wing it until then. As D-Day came closer and closer I simply laughed if off, pretending to make my last will and testament and bequeathing all my worldly goods — and the care of my children — to assorted friends and acquaintances on Facebook.

It was only when the tiny, rickety, noisy plane started to chug down the runway and I knew there was only one way out of the damn thing, that the reality finally dawned on me. By then, of course, it was too late to throw a wobbler. I had a big burly bloke strapped to my back and there was no way he was diving without me. I had no choice, it was do or die. Or do and die.

So I did.

What was it like?

Well imagine the scariest thing you can think of. Then multiply it by infinity. As I plummeted through thousands of feet of freezing clouds, staring directly down at a patchwork of tiny fields and towns that were growing closer and bigger with every split second, my life flashed before my eyes.

And, in a moment of total and absolute clarity, I came to a sudden and abrupt conclusion: If, by some quirk of fate, I actually survive this ordeal in one piece, as long as I live I will never, ever agree to do any more hair-brained, blood-curdling, gut-wrenching, stomach-churning, death-defying, sky-diving charity stunts, ever again. So help me God!

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