Fright & flight

Arranging to soar high in the sky is not the time for miscommunication.

By Matt Cavanaugh. Photos: Nguyen Dong on April 30,2015 10:08 AM

Fright & flight

Danang had been on the top of my list of places to visit ever since I first moved to Vietnam. However, after living in Hanoi for over two years I had still to visit. So, after one of my housemates moved there, I finally made some plans, cleared my schedule, and headed for the airport. The first thing I did when my plane landed was jump in a cab and head straight for the ocean. I quickly found a restaurant with a table right in the sand where I could stretch out and enjoy the view of the severely over-crowded beach while I waited for my friend to join me. It was the height of summer, on a weekend, so the amount of activity squished into the ‘safe zone’ buoys was fantastically entertaining.

There was also a fair amount of activity on the beach that didn’t involve swimming. Fishermen were fishing, long boards were paddling and speedboats were whizzing by. But the thing that caught my attention the most was that some of the speedboats had a parasail strapped to the back with a person floating high in the air with what I could only assume was an amazing view of the city. I made up my mind right then and there that I wanted to do it. When my friend arrived, I asked her if she knew how much it might cost. Apparently she had a connection because she pulled out her phone, sent off a few texts and said I could do it tomorrow afternoon.

The next day I showed up at the meeting point at a small bia hoi near the beach where I was the previous day. I looked around and saw my friend’s contact, a small Vietnamese woman, sitting at a table waving at me to come join her. We started talking and it became apparent that there was a slight miscommunication about the day’s activities. I wasn’t going to be parasailing; I was going to be paragliding. I would not be gliding behind a boat, but jumping off Monkey Mountain. I was excited and scared all at once. But I didn’t have much time to think about it because as soon as I learned what I would actually be doing, I was shuffled into a van and given directions on how to jump as we made our way up to the peak.

It was a sunny, cloudless day with a slight breeze; perfect conditions for jumping off of a mountain. After our van dropped us off at the top, we took advantage of the view and spent some time admiring Danang from above. When it came time to start preparing for our flight, the person that I would be tandem jumping with laid out all of the equipment and started explaining what it was for and how to put it on. We put on our harnesses and then I was hooked up to the front of his, since he needed to be at the back to control the flight. To give you a better visual of this, imagine a father walking around with his infant in a baby carrier on his chest. Now imagine that baby weighing 95 kg and strapped to a man half his size.

Fright & flight

We were standing around while we waited for the go-ahead because the wind needed to be blowing just right for us to be able to takeoff without worrying about being flung back into the mountain or pushed down into the trees. I decided to fix the strap on my helmet that was a little loose while we had some time. As soon as I unclicked it, I heard, ‘GO!’ The wind had caught the chute and we had to start running for the edge of the mountain whether we were ready or not. As we were nearing the edge, every part of my body was saying, ‘STOP! What are you doing?! You’re about to run off the edge of a cliff, you idiot!!!’ But I kept my legs churning, and within a few strides I was literally running on the tops of trees instead of solid ground.

We were safely in the air, but I was still scared out of my mind. Hanging in the sky by just a few strings was unlike anything I had experienced before. I quickly refastened my helmet strap as my flight partner was communicating with the spotter below to make sure we were still on a good flight path. He explained to me that we would be in the air for about 20 minutes as we slowly drifted down to a beach a little north of Danang, but still a good distance away from Monkey Mountain.

Fright & flight

The views were incredible. Everything was new and different and amazing to look at from that angle: from the trees below my dangling feet to the fishing boats just off the coast. Even a parked car was fascinating to look at from a bird’s-eye view! But the best part was yet to come. As we started to turn right to line up with the shore, we got on track to fly directly over the Bodhisattva of Mercy statue. The 67-metre tall statue looked like it was just a little Lego man with a bunch of little ants scurrying around it. Just as I was starting to relax and enjoy my time in the sky, I heard the one thing you don’t want to hear from the person currently in control of your life … ‘Uh-oh’.

‘What do you mean, uh-oh,’ I asked. He calmly stated that the wind had picked up and was beating us back down to earth faster than he had anticipated, so we would need to find a new place to land. This should have worried me a little more than it did, but my adrenaline had already kicked into high gear so I was actually excited to see how we were going to get ourselves out of this situation. After scanning the area for a possible landing spot, he decided on a small area in between a bunch of little circular fishing boats dotting a beach that was approaching very quickly.

As he made the final adjustments to line us up, it was obvious we were travelling way too fast for us to have a pleasant landing. His last words to me seconds before we crash-landed were, ‘Put your legs up so you don’t break them.’ That ended up being good advice, as we slammed into the wet sand bottoms first. Then we bounced, we rolled, got tangled in the strings and were dragged along the beach by the still-inflated parachute. We finally managed to get a grip on the ground, but the parachute was still attempting to drag us farther along and because we were all tied-up in the strings, we ended up looking like a game of Twister that had gone very, very wrong.

Being incapable of moving, we looked around to see if we could get any assistance. To our relief, there was a fisherman just a few metres away staring at us as he calmly and methodically wound up a spool of fishing line. But our relief quickly turned to dismay as he just stood there and stared at us even after we asked for his help. So, we waited patiently for him to finish spooling his line. Then he slowly made his way over to us and balled-up the parachute. We were free, miraculously uninjured and covered in sand. However, even after our questionable landing, the first words out of my mouth after we got ourselves untangled were, ‘When can we do that again?!’

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