Tales From the Bonfire | Going In Blind
Tales from the Bonfire | Feb 06, 2023
Tales From the Bonfire | Going In Blind

Randy Forbes

Photo by Dave Keith.

This story originally appeared in the book “Skydivers’ Stories: No S**t, There I Was, Thought I Was Gonna Die” edited by Tim Long and Doug Garr.

I was filming the night 40-way world record attempts at Perris with Dave Keith back in ‘83 or ‘84. I’d only made one other night dive before—a solo out of a C-180 a decade previously.

For years I never jumped with goggles. I don’t know why, looking back, but based on prior behavior patterns, perhaps that’s not a surprise. But what I desperately needed was glasses, being practically night-blind due to nearsightedness. So, I borrowed a pair from a friend.

At 9 p.m. we gathered for the dirt dive with chem-lites, rotating helmet beacons and flashlights. Before the first attempt a couple of people spoke out about their being nervous and wondered if it was okay to feel that way. Sammy Ramos or Craig Fronk answered “Absolutely,” and we all breathed a collective sigh.

So there we were on jump run two hours later, trundling along at 15 grand in Skip’s DC-3, chem-lites fading and moon almost down, with 41 other hypoxic jumpers wondering, “How the f--k did I get talked into this?”

Not me. I was thinking about diving blind with a six-pound brick on my head … and how I was about to die. Would I blow through someone else’s open canopy because I arrived too late, or would I take someone still in the formation out in my no-look/no-lift dive? It was settled as far as I was concerned. The only other unresolved issue was whether it would make the next day’s newspaper, or the following day.

Dave and I had discussed our breakoff. We decided the safe bet was that since it would be a little crazy at breakoff, and since neither of us wanted to track blind, we could take advantage of our camera slots. We would pull as the formation broke. I would get on the side of the formation where the guy in the base had an orange beacon on his helmet (or was it red?) and Dave would get behind the guy on the opposing side. His light was red (or was it orange?).

Question: How does a blind man distinguish a red light from an orange light—especially when he forgets which color is his?

Answer: He doesn’t.

Amazingly, I finally got right above the formation. Those of you who have exited last out of a DC-3 with 42 on board, tell me what you see when your knees finally hit the breeze? Correct … Nothing. Now tell me what a blind man sees when doing the same exit at night?

Going camera, I never became good at diving and I had to somehow find this formation, standing on my head (which had a giant piece of aluminum strapped to it). I could barely do this during daylight hours. I dove and I dove and I dove. No formation. So I kept diving. Then suddenly it appeared. It had built to about 30 by the time I got down to it. Suddenly it lit up—as if lightning had struck! It happened again! Then again!

It was Dave Keith’s strobe going off and for a moment I was stunned. I never imagined, in all my preparation, what this was going to look like. It was stunning. Blackness pierced by a barrage of strobe flashes from both his camera and mine. First nothing—then, in an instant a 36-way appeared! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! It was breathtaking! But no sooner had I reached the formation than it was time to go.

Now came the decision. In my haste to get down to the formation, I had forgotten which light I was supposed to line up behind. Did it matter anyway, being half-blind? I could see the flash from Dave’s strobe, but I couldn’t see Dave. Where was he? I had this awful feeling when my pilot chute left my hand.

When we landed, I saw Dave. He walked over to me and with the calmest, softest voice asked, “Do you know where I was?”

I told him that I had a strong premonition that I was about to find out. He said, without any anger, “If it wasn’t for the fact that your pilot chute went just past my right cheek, you and I wouldn’t be standing here now. As soon as I saw it, I barrel-rolled to get out of your way.”

Randy Forbes | D-10858
Westfield, Indiana

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2 comments on article "Tales From the Bonfire | Going In Blind"

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Chris Conkright

2/10/2023 7:52 AM

Great story, Randy! Thanks for the smile.

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bernie williams

2/25/2023 12:45 AM

great job......................~ ~

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