Comments & Curiosities: Taking the plunge

Comments & Curiosities

June 13, 2010|Peter Buffa

Have you ever jumped out of an airplane?

I haven't. It's called skydiving. You climb into a small plane, then go higher and higher as everything below you gets smaller and smaller — buildings, people, even squirrels, which are pretty small to begin with.

When you reach just the right altitude, you just step outside, through the door, into the air, straight down, until the buildings, the people and the squirrels are getting bigger. When everything is just the right size, you pull the ripcord and the rest is easy, sort of.

If you want to know what it really feels like, you can ask the shining light of Newport-Mesa, or any other mesa, our very own Marion Bergeson.

Believe it or not, for the last few years, Marion has made diving off the 5,000-meter board a birthday tradition, and this year's jump, which happened a couple of weeks ago, was her fourth.


Marion has to be the most unlikely skydiver in the history of skydiving. If you are looking for a woman to head a major university or a huge corporation, or be the Ambassador-to-Wherever, Marion is the perfect choice.

But she is the last person you would expect to see in a jumpsuit, helmet and goggles, poised in the doorway of an airplane at 15,000 feet, giving you a smile and a thumbs-up just before stepping into the ether and disappearing in the clouds.

Not only was that the script a few weeks ago, but Marion's latest jump turned out to be more of an adventure than she planned, although this year, her birthday plunge was a group effort.

For reasons still not entirely understood, three of my fellow transportation wonks at OCTA thought jumping out of a plane, falling to earth at 150 mph and hoping your chute opens seemed like a good idea.

They agreed to be Marion's jump buddies and gathered on a Saturday morning at Perris Valley airport, which is in Perris, which makes sense.

The crew included Will Kempton, CEO of OCTA and formerly the top cop at Caltrans; Kris Murray, executive director of government relations at OCTA; and Wendy Villa, who works with Kris. I was supposed to join them but am sporting a torn rotator cuff in my left shoulder and was told by one of those wet blanket-wielding doctors that skydiving is probably not the best idea when your left arm is mostly there for show.

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