The reason we give gifts is to express the way we feel for one another, at least the gifts we give out of genuine feeling and not a sense of obligation. A good gift-giver will tailor the gift so that it shows that real emotion and fits what the recipient’s desires.
A lot of the time, that means giving the gift of a shared experience rather than some object. Whether it’s a simple meal or an elaborate vacation, it’s the being together that counts. But sometimes, the experience ends up being not all it’s cracked up to be…
Christmas In The South
Christmas in South Carolina never looks like the snow-covered winter wonderlands you sometimes get in the more northern states. But the important elements of the season are there: time spent with loved ones, plenty of good food, and the joy of giving.
Daniel was as excited as can be about the gift his girlfriend Jessica had gotten him that year. She’d arranged for them both to go skydiving in a couple of months. It would be the first time either of them had jumped out of a plane and it promised to be a memorable event…
It’s something that the 25-year-old Daniel had wanted to do for some time. As an Army private, he was no stranger to blood-pumping situations. He’d been watching skydiving videos online for months before he knew about Jessica’s gift and after Christmas, he ramped it up even more.
Jessica and Daniel were scheduled to jump on the first weekend in February at a place called Skydive Carolina. Because it was their first time, they would be doing what’s called a tandem jump. Each of them would have an instructor strapped to their back who would be in charge of making sure everything went smoothly…
When the day came Daniel and Jessica went down to Skydive Carolina together with Daniel’s mother Darlene and spent a little time getting to know the instructors they were going to jump with. Daniel’s guy went by “Chip” and was a 49-year-old veteran skydiver with over 8,000 jumps under his belt. To know that he’d jumped out of an airplane more times than most folks have been in one certainly inspired confidence.
Daniel and Chip were to be the last of about ten skydivers to jump out of the plane, with Jessica and her instructor going right before them. Once they were up in the air with the cold wind whipping through the open airplane door, their hearts were pounding…
One by one, each person went from standing firm on their own two feet to free falling, with nothing between them and the ground but two and a half miles of pure air. It was Jessica’s turn and then, after a break to put some distance between them, Daniel Pharr and George ‘Chip’ Steele plunged out into the blue.
After a minute of free fall, Chip pulled the chute and their fall slowed. “It’ got super quiet,” Daniel said. He said “It’s surprising how quiet it is,” to Chip and he said, “Welcome to my world.” After a few seconds, Daniel asked his instructor another question and this time Chip didn’t reply. He asked, again and again, no reply…
You’re On Your Own
“And then I just looked up at him and he looked like he was conscious but just talking to him, I realized something was wrong,” Daniel said. Seeing that Chip was having some kind of health problem, Daniel was effectively on his own. “I was just going to have to do what I had to do to get down to the ground and try to help him.”
As coolly as possible, Daniel assessed his situation. “I could see other parachutes going as scheduled from the other jumpers. They were going the opposite direction I was going.” He knew he had to get back on course for the landing area and, having never skydived before, he would have to rely on what he’d learned watching countless skydiving videos…
To adjust his course, he had to use the parachute’s steering toggles. But because the pack was strapped to Chip’s back and Chip was strapped to his, Daniel could only reach one toggle, giving him the power just to turn right.
Coming In Fast
But turning right is better than not turning at all when you’re headed for a house. After he managed to make the course correction, “I was headed toward trees,’ Daniel said, “and I turned again.” Still, the ground was coming up fast…
Time To Help
Though the approach was far from graceful, Daniel managed to position himself well enough for the impact that he didn’t break any bones. He got out of the harness as quick as he could so he could tend to his instructor. Seeing Chip was completely unresponsive and not breathing, Daniel immediately began administering CPR.
Help Is On The Way
Daniel and Chip had landed about a third of a mile away from the airstrip where they were supposed to land, blocked from the view of spectators by the trees Daniel had swerved to avoid. As he tried his best to revive the instructor, Skydive Carolina’s staff on the ground was rushing to them to help…
Not In Time
Unfortunately, when paramedics arrived to take over for Daniel, they could tell that it was too late to save him. An autopsy would later show that he had suffered a heart attack in mid-air and had died as they approached the ground or sometime shortly thereafter.
The Longest Wait
Meanwhile, shortly after they’d jumped, Daniel’s mother Darlene was on the ground and heard the radio message that a tandem pair of skydivers were down and it didn’t look good. Her heart dropped. “It was an eternity,” she said, waiting for the news of what happened…
Borrow Your Phone?
When the paramedics had a spare moment from trying to tend to Chip, Daniel asked them to borrow a phone to call his mother and girlfriend. It had been ten or fifteen minutes since that radio call when they heard Daniel’s voice and learned that he was safe.
Though Chip Steele’s death had been tragic, it had been something of a miracle that Daniel had made it safely to the ground, given he had no “real” skydiving experience. He attributes it entirely to the videos he watched and his ability to stay calm…
Just Stay Calm
“The likelihood of you surviving,” Daniel said, “ decreases absolutely amazingly by factors exponentially if you panic.” And even for a soldier, he exemplified exceptional calm under pressure. “He’s as cool as the backside of a pillow,” his father, Daniel Lee said. Cool as he is, they forced him to agree to never go skydiving again.
Doing What He Loved
James La Barrie, the general manager of Skydive Carolina was understandably hurt by the loss of his colleague and friend but said that “Chip would be so relieved to know that his tandem passenger was ok and unscathed. He loved skydiving and the joy that it brought to the thousands of first-time jumpers.”