After the free fall | The Seattle Times

Luke Aikins jumped out of a plane with no parachute. Now he talks about what happened after he hit the net.

EVERYTHING BEGAN THE moment the jump ended. Inside the net, Luke Aikins, the Shelton man who skydived without a parachute last summer, screamed obscenities. Then he whispered. Then he just breathed — slow, deep, rhythmic breaths.

It took 121 seconds from the time he stepped out of the plane, 25,000 feet above the California desert, until he landed in the 100-foot-by-100-foot net. It took another 45 seconds for the net, 170 feet in the air, to lower him to the ground and for him to begin the celebration.

It was the only part of the jump he could never simulate. Everything else he could analyze, inspect, test and calculate. But the end could only be experienced. He floated while in the net — no longer falling yet not touching the ground. He didn’t hear friends calling his name or the hum of engines overhead. He didn’t remember whispering, “Oh my goodness, Luke” or screaming in a voice so high-pitched it didn’t sound like his. Wisps of smoke, the remnants of canisters used to track him during the jump, streaked the blue sky as he looked up.

For the only time that day, he was completely, entirely alone. “Something rushed over me,” he says. “There was stuff I didn’t know had anything to do with what I was doing.”

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In the coming weeks, he told and retold stories about the jump for “Today,” People and FOX. But he never mentioned the importance of those 45 seconds in the net.

He thought of his son.

His wife.

His career and what got him here.

And he thought, too, about Colby and the accident.

Then his back touched the ground. He stood up and smiled, an unguarded joy his wife hadn’t seen in years.


HIS WIFE, MONICA, pictured his death. She watched the jump 100 feet from the net, near the paramedics. At that proximity, she knew, she would see and hear everything. She had to imagine each outcome.

“OK, if he breaks his leg, no big deal,” she said. “If he breaks his arm, no big deal. What if he’s a paraplegic? What if he’s a quadriplegic?”

If Luke missed the net entirely, his death would be gruesome. As a performer, Luke enjoyed the fact that the possibility of death — of his death — made people watch. (Some of his skydiving friends, however, couldn’t stomach watching the jump live). He was almost cocky in his ability, research and tests. Still, he had one request written into his contract: If he died, he wanted the footage destroyed.

He did not have a death wish, but neither did he believe in fate. “Bad shit happens to good people,” he says. “That’s my personal take on life.”

During testing, Monica would lie on her back underneath the net, right in the center, so she could see Luke’s approach. For the actual jump, Luke wanted Monica to watch with the…

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