94-year-old parachutes for his birthday | News | The Press and Standard
by The Press and Standard | March 1, 2018 5:00 pm
Last Updated: February 28, 2018 at 3:22 pm
Howard Jones soared again the afternoon of Feb. 24.
From the back deck of the home in which he’s lived for nearly 25 years, the Walterboro resident watched Skydive Walterboro parachutists gliding back to earth.
Then a decade ago, Jones explained, “I decided to try it.”
Even though Jones had never skydived, he had spent quite a bit of time wearing a chute. In World War II, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps and was trained as a tail gunner on a bomber, flying 28 combat missions.
“Fortunately, I did not have to jump out of a plane there,” Jones said. “They gave us a parachute, but we never trained on jumping. We didn’t have time for that.”
Jones’ first tandem jump came when he was 84 years old — on June 15, his birthday.
It was better then he expected. “More of a thrill, I guess you could call it that,” Jones said.
The free fall after leaving the plane generates the most excitement, he said. “For about a minute, you are running at 125 miles per hour. The wind is blowing in your face but there is no sense of falling really. The ground does not come up as fast as you think it might.”
Jones never had an interest in jumping solo. By jumping tandem, he explained, “I didn’t have to spend eight hours training for a single jump.
“These jump masters are pretty good at what they do,” Jones added. “They have thousands of jumps.”
It became a tradition. Every year on his birthday, Jones, always tethered to jump master Nick Swindle, jumps out the door of the jump plane as it circles the Lowcountry Airport to reach jump height.
Last weekend’s jump was a little different.
First, this jump came a few months early, arranged by the Beaufort office of PruittHealth Hospice, who handles the 93-year-old’s in-home health care needs along with his son Howard “Skip” Jones.
The staff of the Beaufort office wanted to ensure Jones got another jump in case his health deteriorated. But Jones still has his sights set on being back at the airport for another birthday jump this June.
The second difference was Jones’ 10th jump drew an audience. Several dozen family members and staff members from PruttHealth Hospice were on hand to witness the jump. Skip Jones took care of the party planning, providing his dad’s audience with food and beverages.
Third, Jones had company. His grandson, Austin Jones, made his first tandem jump with his grandfather.
Austin received his jump training earlier and was already strapped into his harness when he surprised his grandfather. Austin was tethered to Tandem Examiner Mike Clemmons.
Billy Carter, owner of Skydive Walterboro, explained that before making his first tandem jump, Clemmons handled Austin’s verbal instruction. The instructions, Carter said, let the first-time tandem jumper “know what they are up against.”
Clemmons, in addition to overseeing the tandem jump operations, doubles as Skydive Walterboro’s resident comedian. Just before getting on the plane, Clemmons offered a word of advise if the chute failed to open. “Just start flapping your arms real hard.”
The final difference for the Jones’s tenth jump was he was linked to a new jump master. Swindle, a commercial pilot, has a new job and moved out of the area.
This time he would be leaving the plane with jump master Zack Hampton.
The free fall and slow glide back to earth went off without a hitch. Once back on solid ground, Jones and his grandson began reliving their jump before heading back to the party to retell their stories.
“It’s addictive,” Jones said.