The News’s freshman reporter, Patrick Penner, with SkyHawk Sgt. Joey Miller as they free-fall at 12,000 ft. above Abbotsford. (Photo courtesy of the SkyHawks.)

Conquering a fear of heights: going skydiving with the SkyHawks

News reporter Patrick Penner free-falls from 12,000 feet above Abbotsford

I have always held an irrational fear of heights, so when the Abbotsford Airshow gave me the opportunity to jump out of an airplane at 12,000 feet, I surprised myself.

It’s becoming a tradition for the new reporter at The News to be the guinea pig at the airshow.

A previous reporter was placed in the back of a stunt plane, and as this year’s guinea pig, I was offered the chance to do a tandem skydive with the SkyHawks, the Canadian Forces parachute demonstration team performing at the city’s airshow this weekend.

My long-held phobia didn’t really start to surface until we started the walk towards the 1963 Skyvan plane. It was not a fancy machine. There were no comfy seats, or food or drink service. And I wanted a drink.

When we started our ascent into the sky the fear on my face must have been fairly obvious to the SkyHawk team, most of whom were twice my size and built like football players.

And although I was joined by several other members of the media making their first jumps too, they seemed calm. They were chatting, laughing and seemingly insane to me.

I was partnered with SkyHawk Sgt. Joey Miller, who tried his best to make me less nervous. His gracious efforts seemed to have the opposite effect. My hands were sweaty and I was scratching my beard, even though it wasn’t itchy.

“You’re doing a great job at not looking nervous,” Miller said, which prompted all the military men to chuckle.

But when the plane reached the jump altitude and the back of the plane opened to the sky, there was only one way out of this situation – down.

I sat on Miller’s lap as he strapped our bodies tight together. It felt being in a baby carrier, physically and emotionally.

Our turn to jump came sooner than I would have liked. As we inched towards the back of the plane, the air pressure did most of the work. We back-flipped out.

My 27-year fear of heights went out the window in a 30-second free-fall.

As our fall stabilized, I didn’t know what to do with my hands, so Miller stretched them out like a pair of wings. We were flying.

Before I knew it the parachute opened and we we’re floating above the clouds. I was asked me if I wanted to do some G-Force turns with the canopy.

“Absolutely,” I said.

We started to barrel-roll and the sun turned our shadow into a silhouette on the clouds before we punched through them.

Abbotsford came into full view, but I barely noticed. I insisted that Miller continue to make turns all the way down.

The landing was soft. In under a second, two other SkyHawks detached our canopy and greeted me with round of high-fives and a beer.

Rollercoaster rides will never be the same.

RELATED: Acrobatics for breakfast: reporter gets awakening in the sky (with video)

Just Posted

VIDEO: Young balance-bikers race through Surrey’s Civic Plaza at Strider Cup

The course has several obstacles including ‘Mount Scary’ and the ‘Noodle Monster’

‘Potentially life-threatening’ injuries in overnight Surrey crash

Police had Highway 10 between 180th and 186th streets closed for several hours

45-year-old ID’ed as victim of South Surrey stabbing

Delphin Paul Prestbakmo died at the scene, near 18 Avenue and 152 Street

Support granted for NatureKids

Program provides opportunities for youth and families to learn about and enjoy the outdoors

Puppy rescued from smoky South Surrey condo

Fire alarms brought firefighters to the Morgan Crossing residences around 7 p.m. Thursday

VIDEO: Langley Ribfest met with protesters

Groups that oppose the event for various reasons plan to be on site each of the three days.

Canadians killed in Afghanistan honoured during emotional dedication ceremony

One-hundred-fifty-eight Canadian soldiers died during the mission

It’s snow joke: Up to 30 cm of snow expected to fall in northeastern B.C.

Alaska Highway, Fort Nelson to be hit with August snowstorm, according to Environment Canada

‘I’m just absolutely disgusted’: Husband furious after B.C. Mountie’s killer gets day parole

Kenneth Fenton was sentenced to prison after he fatally struck Const. Sarah Beckett’s cruiser

Sea-to-Sky Gondola in B.C. likely out of commission until 2020

Sea to Sky Gondola carries between 1,500 and 3,000 people every day during the summer season

PHOTOS: Weapons seized at Portland right-wing rally, counterprotests

Not all who gathered Saturday were with right-wing groups or antifa

Maple Ridge’s first retail cannabis store opens Monday

Spiritleaf is just the second private pot shop in the Fraser Valley

Discussion on grief and loss between Stephen Colbert, Anderson Cooper goes viral

The exchange includes emotional question from Cooper, and outlook on grief as a child

Toronto activist calling on federal parties to nominate more black candidates

Fewer than 20 black Canadians have been nominated so far, including some Liberal MPs seeking re-election

Most Read