Freefalling from the edge of the stratosphere

Published On: Apr 26 2013 07:11:04 AM HST
WAIALUA, Hawaii -

It's typically a sight only seen by the military.  The rear of a transport jet opening with 20,000 feet separating you from the ground.

It's called HALO -- high altitude low opening.

"How long of a freefall are we talking about from 20,000 feet?" asked KITV4 News reporter Andrew Pereira.

"I'd say 90 seconds plus, something like that, depending on how high above 20,000 you're able to go," said Skydive Hawaii owner Frank Hinshaw.

After an invite from Big Island blogger Damon Tucker -- actually, two invites -- 20,000 feet sounded fine.

Skydive Hawaii upped the ante -- 22,000 feet -- or 4.16 vertical miles!

Reality sets in.  This is high risk.  The instructors don't shy away from that very fact.

"It is a dangerous activity.  You could get hurt.  You could lose your life skydiving.  It's happened out here before," said Hinshaw.

And when you're jumping HALO, what you wear and even your shave matters.

"I think we had minus-26 at jump altitude before," said Hinshaw.  "So, we ask people to prepare for the cold weather and to shave facial hair, that kind of stuff, because you have to get a good seal with the oxygen mask."

Takeoff comes first, and the nerves kick in.  At 12,000 feet, oxygen becomes scarce.  We put on masks.

At the edge of the stratosphere, your oxygen levels are top priority.

"That's why we test on the way to altitude, to make sure that your body is doing well, and if we have to abort the jump, we'll abort the jump," said Hinshaw.

At more than 20,000 feet there's no turning back.  But, it's when the door opens that you realize you're really doing this!

Above the clouds at 22,000 feet, it's "go" time.  Connected to my tandem instructor, Papa Dop, I take the plunge!

The freefall lasts an incredible 1-minute and 40 seconds.  Every moment is pulse-pounding!

"People go through growth making a skydive.  They realize they can do things, you know.  They feel more self-confident than before.  It can be a life-changing experience," said Hinshaw.

It's the ultimate thrill ride right through landing.

Click here to see Andrew Pereira's HALO video.


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