The morning of Sunday, Oct. 20, is 80 degrees with little wind and not a single cloud in the sky—the perfect conditions for skydiving.
It’s the day orchestra teacher Felecia Keys has picked to fulfill her greatest dream since she was a child: to soar through the clouds.
For most of her life, Keys wanted to feel the sensation of flying. When she first got close to fulfilling her dream, however, she hesitated.
“I didn’t want to go skydiving or hot air ballooning when my children were young because I didn’t want for something to go wrong and leave them entirely alone,” Keys said.
However, now that both her daughters are over 21, Keys decided it was time.
Keys is picked up at 10 a.m. by her friend, Anne Montgomery. They planned the dive together and are determined to see it through as a team.
Montgomery is the mother of a previous student of Keys.
Keys was surprised that she didn’t have any trouble sleeping the night before.
“I never actually got nervous about the jump, but I was very excited when (Montgomery) arrived at my house that morning,” Keys said.
When the two get to Skydive Sacramento (1404 Flightline Dr.), they enter what look like apartment houses.
Dirt and yellowing grass surround the buildings, giving them a dilapidated look.
They go out into what should have been the building’s backyard and find an expansive airstrip filled with twin propeller planes.
After looking around, Keys and Montgomery are seated in a small room to watch a video that explains the logistics of skydiving.
While the video plays, they sign paperwork releasing the company from liability should something go wrong.
As the video makes it clear to the viewers that “you risk serious injury or death while skydiving,” Keys laughs nervously.
Keys and Montgomery will be jumping tandem (jumping with instructors strapped to their backs). The instructors will control the direction of their fall and open their parachutes.
Once Keys and Montgomery are secured in their harnesses, they engage in lighthearted conversations with instructors Ross Jones and Mike Rave, respectively.
Rave, the smaller of the two instructors, talks to them for half an hour.
When they are comfortable, the four leave for the Beechcraft King Air 200.
Keys does a small skipping dance on the way to the plane.
The ascent to 9,000 feet takes approximately 10 minutes, and the first skydivers jump from the plane.
“I remember the plane ride being silent,” Keys said. “Everyone was too preoccupied thinking about what we were about to do to have real conversations.”
Once the first group jumps, the plane rises to 13,000 feet.
Then the instructors tell the jumpers to get in a single-file line.
Montgomery is in front of Keys.
One by one, instructors and their clients fall head first out of the plane.
As Montgomery and Rave jump, Keys has a moment of doubt, but it is too late to turn back.
“As I saw (Montgomery) get sucked out of the plane before I jumped, the only thing that came to my mind was ‘Oh, my god!’ And the next thing I knew, Ross and I were free-falling through the sky,” Keys said.
Keys’s initial observation while falling is that the wind is whipping her face and body.
Then after what seems like two minutes to Keys, her instructor pulls the cord and the parachute opens.
(The actual time from flight to parachute engagement is really only 25 seconds.)
Along the way, Jones gave Keys some directions on how to enhance the experience. She did several spirals and even fell backwards for a moment.
“I felt like a bird in freefall,” Keys said.
Keys remembers feeling the air pressing against her face, but she was surprised that the falling didn’t affect her breathing.
“Although I had planned on screaming during the fall, when the time came, I really just wanted to concentrate on the view of the world from 13,000 feet in the air,” Keys said.
When she lands safely in the landing zone, she is ecstatic. She and Montgomery celebrate with hugs and high fives.
“I thought that it would have hurt to land on my butt, but it just felt like I had sat down particularly hard on a chair,” Keys said.
After her jump, Keys said she definitely wants to go skydiving again.
“If the occasion arises, I would love to feel the sensation of flying through the skies once again,” she said with a smile.