Jump to get the pulse racing

FOR a man who'd never been in an aeroplane before, let alone jumped out of one, Nathan Woolnough looked remarkably calm as he stepped aboard a plane to make his first skydive.

FOR a man who'd never been in an aeroplane before, let alone jumped out of one, Nathan Woolnough looked remarkably calm as he stepped aboard. Features editor TRACEY SPARLING followed his skydive, in memory of a homeless Ipswich man who townsfolk loved.

DONNING an orange and purple jumpsuit, conical hat and Perspex goggles could only be in aid of one thing - a good cause!

But if the charity skydive from 10,000ft up which would push his pulse to 200 beats a minute wasn't enough for Nathan Woolnough, he was also set to encounter the experience of flying for the first time.

For the 23-year-old from Sirdar Road, Ipswich, looking down on East Anglia from above would bring a whole new perspective. He just had to remember to follow his instructor's instructions to the letter too.

Nathan insisted he was still not nervous, as the long wait for his jump at Old Buckenham Airfield in Norfolk began.

“I'm just really excited,” said the Axa employee of six months.

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“I'm looking forward to going in a plane, I've only been on family holidays to France which didn't need flying. The worst bit will be actually jumping out - if I stop to think about it I might freeze, so I'll just do it. Once I'm out, I just have to hold on until we reach the ground!”

“I think I'm more nervous than Nathan,” said his girlfriend Sadie Pennell, 19, who was answering the phone to Nathan's mum anxious enquiries about how the day was going.

Sadie added: “I'm worried enough for the both of us. There's no way I'd do it - I think it's madness, absolute madness,” she laughed.

Nathan said: “Some people said: 'I couldn't do that,' and decided I must be crazy, while others wished they could have ago. It'll be something to tell my grandchildren.”

The day after he paid the deposit to secure his jump, a woman died skydiving elsewhere in the UK, but that failed to deter him. Then as Nathan queued to enter the plane, he heard a last-minute story from solo jumper David Ney from Ipswich, who told of the frightening moment six years ago when he had to employ his reserve parachute.

“It was entirely my own fault,” admitted David, who used to parachute from Ipswich Airport before it closed.

“You are supposed to do 'dummy pulls' to make sure you can locate the toggle to open the main parachute, and I didn't. I disobeyed that because I thought I knew what I was doing.

“Then when the time came to open it, the toggle wasn't where I thought it should be and I missed it, twice. In that moment I had to keep calm, there was only a second to make the decision - after that any decision would be fairly academic. After that out came the reserve.”

For Nathan's jump, he was strapped to Parachute UK instructor Adrian Baldry, who carried two parachutes in a kit weighing four stone.

Adrian from Needham Market who works as a driving instructor during the week, has been parachuting since 1991. He told Nathan: “When we go in, you need to sit on the floor between my legs, and relax. We will take off for a 15-minute ride, and five minutes before we jump out we'll get ready.”

He told Nathan to bend his body backwards like a banana as they exited the plane.

He said: “We will be falling at 120mph for 45 seconds in freefall, then four to five minutes with the canopy open.”

At the last minute, a sudden hailstorm threatened to postpone Nathan's jump, then the sky cleared to blue again and the plane's engine kicked into life.

Minutes later all eyes turned skywards to search for the first signs of parachutes in a hazy sky. Nathan was the last jumper out. After a few whirls in the air currents he and Adrian soon drifted towards the ground and landed fine.

Sadie ran to hug Nathan as he returned across the field.

With a beaming grin, he said: “The plane seemed to take ages to get to altitude, then I was the last one out so I got to sit by the window and watch the view - it was awesome - amazing.

“Once we were in freefall, it went really quickly. When the canopy opened there was total silence, and I could enjoy the view. I definitely want to do it again now!”

POPULAR Ipswich Big Issue seller Steven Shelley is the reason Nathan wanted to do the jump.

The 33-year-old who was a familiar face selling the charity magazine from his spot outside Clarks in Tavern Street, died from suspected pneumonia in May 2005.

A shrine set up in his memory outside Clarks, grew quickly with shoppers paying their respects by leaving bunches of flowers candles and even sandwiches.

Nathan said: “I knew him quite well as I went out with his sister for five years and have stayed friends with his brother James. In the same year as Steven died, James's dad passed away too and we got close close through that.

“Steven was a really nice bloke and had been really into bodybuilding, before his life generally spiralled downhill after he split up with his wife. He ended up homeless and selling the Big Issue.

“I got the idea to do the jump from the Big Issue magazine because the charity was looking for volunteers.”

To send Nathan a donation for The Big Issue Foundation, contact him on 07849 076739.

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