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)

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