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Magic minute that will last a lifetime

Updated: 2011-05-26 07:59
By Joanna Huang ( China Daily)

 Magic minute that will last a lifetime

With the aid of her coach, Joanna Huang (in pink) enjoys the experience of free falling from an altitude of 4,000 meters. Provided to China Daily

Editor's note: Joanna Huang is director of communications for Shangri-La's Kerry Centre Hotel in Beijing. Here she describes the day she threw herself out of an airplane for charity.

Ihave never been a girly kind of girl. Any activity with a hint of danger fascinates me. So when the opportunity arose to combine two interests, extreme sports and charity work, I jumped at it.

I was hosting a media luncheon in Dubai when my dining companion said she was taking part in a tandem skydiving event in support of the Breast Cancer Foundation of the Emirates. Without hesitating, I asked: "Can I join you?"

Participants who pledged to jump sought sponsorships, with all proceeds to go to the foundation set up by Dr Houriya Kazim, the first and only Emirati woman breast cancer surgeon in the United Arab Emirates.

I raised about 5,000 yuan from friends and colleagues who thought I was mad to do something so dangerous, even for a good cause.

On Feb 9, 2007, a friend I'd convinced to be my dive buddy drove us from Dubai to a private airfield in Umm Al Quwain, another emirate in the UAE. We were ushered into an airplane hangar and taken through the procedure, from exit through free fall, manoeuvres while free falling, to landing and basic hand signals.

Donning pink jumpsuits, the color representing support of breast cancer awareness, we were taken to a tiny plane that was going to seat six people: two tandem instructors, two videographers and ourselves. The videographers would record our jump for posterity.

The first flight ended abruptly. At the jumping height of 4,000 meters, we were told the jumps could not take place due to too much air traffic. Back to the ground we went.

Twenty minutes later, we were given the green light. As we climbed, I started monitoring the altimeter: 1,000 meters 2,000 meters my heart was thumping 3,000 meters I started having mixed feelings 3,500 meters I thought to myself that I might just be crazy doing something like this. At 4,000 meters, the instructors hustled us to our feet. I would be the first to jump.

As we stood at the edge of the plane door adjusting our goggles and headgear, I looked down at the ground. My heart was pounding, and I could feel fear in my throat.

The instructor started counting down to one, and I remember thinking: "Oh wow, that's a really long way down."

At this moment, we rocked out of the plane. It was a good five seconds before I stopped screaming in fear and switched to whooping in delight. Body and mind were pumped full of adrenaline.

I felt overwhelmed, exhilarated. Such a rush, free falling through pure nothingness. I was flying with the wind in my face. I felt so alive.

What seemed like a lifetime later, although I was told later it was less than one minute, the parachute opened. We were gliding, and I was just drinking in the amazing scenery - undulating white-blue waves crashing into the shoreline coupled with the richness of desert dunes. That scene remains imprinted in my mind.

As we approached the landing field, I manoeuvred into landing position, which meant keeping my legs parallel to the ground.

And then, it was over. I was on such a high I felt invincible.

They say your first free-falling experience stays with you for life. It's so true. I can still vividly recall that moment and the feeling when I stepped off the ledge of the plane door into thin air hmmm I wonder if there's skydiving in Beijing.

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(China Daily 05/26/2011)