GTN Presents: Don Mann: High Altitude High Opening Jumping

April 23rd, 2013

GTN Presents Don Mann: High Altitude High Opening Jumping

In the military when you say “we’re going skydiving”, quite often the plane comes over, jumpers jump out, 12,000 feet, 10,000 feet and your falling for about a minute. You wave off, you pull your parachute, your parachute opens up… it’s a nice sunny day, you land on the mound, you go get a beer, it’s a fun day. The kids come up and go “hey dad just jumped out of an airplane” and it’s fun.

In SEAL team it’s not like that. In SEAL team first of all everything’s done at night, typically, and you don’t jump slick. You don’t jump out with just your jumpsuit on; you jump out with a big giant rucksack filled with combat gear. You have a weapon on the side, you have oxygen here, you have a GPS and a compass board here. You have a helmet on, you have a radio on and GPS. When you walk on to the plane you are just packed with gear and it’s very uncomfortable. You don’t just jump out over a target and land. You might jump 40 miles away from the target: high altitude, high opening is a HAHO. So we do HAHO’s, we jump 18-30,000 feet up in the air. As soon as you jump, 4 seconds, 5 seconds maybe 3 seconds, you pull your chute. It’s called a “hop and pop, you jump out and pull your chute. So you have all those canopies up there, way above the clouds, at night bumping into one another. Six to 30 people jumping at a time. You’re flying for almost an hour and you land onto a place and all the sudden there’s a bunch of guys there. The plane was never detected, never heard, it wasn’t on radar or anything to pick up the plane but all these guys are on the ground, they bury the parachutes and go do a mission.

So we were doing this HAHO jump one night and I jumped out of the plane. I went through the parachute risers (these are the lines that go up through the parachute) and my body inverted through the risers…and thats with the big ruck sack on and the GPS and all that gear. The risers spun really fast and hit my head and the oxygen mask fell off. I thought my jaw was shattered, but when the oxygen mask came off it took my jaw and neck and spun it that way and the risers held my head down pretty tight to my chest. I thought my neck had snapped and my jaw had snapped and I looked up and I could see the other guys way up there. I tried to get on the radio to tell them I had to cut away, I had a malfunction but I couldn’t speak, my mouth wouldn’t work at all. So I did my cut-away I got rid of my main chute, the one that was malfunctioned, I got rid of it. I started free-falling again and pulled my reserve, now I had a good parachute. I got my oxygen back on to make the white stars go away, I was able to see again. I was thinking “OK, now I just have to deal with my neck and my jaw.” My neck wasn’t broken, I wasn’t sure what happened, but my jaw was dislocated. My lower jaw was way off to the left. I was a medic so I knew how to re-locate a jaw and I figured I’d try it under canopy because I couldn’t get on the radio to talk to the guys. I was going to tell them I had to cut away and I was going to be behind them when we land, but I couldn’t talk. My mouth wouldn’t move. So, under canopy I was able to snap my jaw back into place, and it did snap into place… My dentist still asks today “what is wrong with your jaw?” it’s still a problem. I was able to talk, I got it back into place, got my oxygen on, got on my radio and said “hey I’m going to be a couple hundred meters behind you guys, I had to cut away.” I love that that happened because I had good Navy training, we were disciplined, we knew exactly what to do if an emergency happened and it wasn’t a scary thing at all. It was just like “OK, your jaws dislocated. Put it back into place. It happened at 18,000 feet… so what? You have plenty of time before you land.”

I just like that attitude that the good Navy training instilled in us. “Take it on. Bring it on. You’re not going to stop me,” just that attitude. Bring it on, deal with it. What else you got?