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Tumbling into 21

Informer reporter, Francesca Dowling, is reliving her recent 21st birthday celebration when she jumped off the Sky Tower in Auckland.

Looking down 192m from the tallest freestanding structure in the southern hemisphere into the bleak grey sidewalks of the city below. Splat! It would be that quick. Travelling at 85km/h, there was no way anyone would survive a malfunction of the Sky Tower’s famous Sky Jump equipment.

Probably not the thoughts that should be travelling through your brain on your 21st birthday. It was Sunday, 15 May. I had lived a good 21 years up to that point, but I was standing at the edge of the tower with nothing more than a harness to protect me against a disastrous tragedy.

I noticed my ant-sized family, specs in the distance. They were looking up from the landing deck, waiting in anticipation as I garner the gall to throw myself off the tower. I saw my sister, Scarlett, in her matching orange jumpsuit, a beacon of life. Recalling her saying that the last thing she would ever do was bungee jump, I naturally booked a Sky Jump ticket for her too and made her jump first. What can I say? I believe in self-preservation, I needed a test dummy.

Too busy chuckling to myself at the dark humoured prank I pulled on my sister, I only noticed that the the bubbly babble of the Sky Jump operator ceased when the crane holding my harness began lifting me up against my will. I was now completely out of control as only my toes were able to scrape the surface beneath me. This was not what I had signed up for! I thought I was supposed to be jumping out of my own free will, not mechanically being lifted and dumped off the edge. My once calm, laid back demeanour vanished as sheer panic took over all rational and reasonable thought.

“Please grab the two rungs, Miss,” the operator instructed. “Don’t have to tell me twice,” I thought as I eyed the hard surface of the city below me, gripping the rungs until the whites of my knuckles showed. I heard the click and buzz of the operator’s walkie-talkie as he alerted the staff member on the ground, “Birthday girl coming in,” he said. Crackle. “Roger that,” came the reply.

There was a tap on my shoulder. It was time. “I’m gonna count to three birthday girl (I think he forgot my name) and when I say jump, you jump okay,” the instructor said. I said nothing while looking out at the grey sky, refusing to look down anymore.

“One, two, three, goooo,” I heard. I didn’t go. Despite the machine dragging me off the side, my fists were still balled around the handlebars attached to the structure, frozen in place and unable to let go. I turned my head to look at the operator apologetically. He looked bored, completely desensitised to the sight of people flinging themselves off buildings, it’s clearly an everyday occurrence for him.

The operator gave me a quick shove and gravity violently became a reality as I plummeted downwards, hearing a shrill scream in the distance.

Temporarily blinded by a concoction of the sharp icy wind and stray hair crossing my face, I finally opened my eyes and I was already on the soft, squishy landing mat at the bottom of the jump, surrounded by my laughing family, their phones all pointing my way.

The first words I heard were from Scarlett. “Let's do something scarier next time,” she said. “Yeah right,” I couldn’t help to think.

Pictured is Informer reporter, Francesca Dowling, with a Sky Jump operator on top of the Auckland Sky Tower.


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