WATERVILLE — Jumping out of an airplane has been a dream of Marjorie Bell for nearly two decades.
On Sunday, one day after her 80th birthday, Bell leaped out of an airplane from more than 10,000 feet in the air.
“I’ve never felt so free,” Bell said, minutes after completing her sky dive from nearly two miles high.
Bell was far from alone in her jump. Along with her were about two dozen family members and friends, a half dozen of whom — including Bell’s daughter, son-in-law and a couple grandchildren — were also jumping.
“I was so thrilled for her, and it was so cool being above her and being able to watch her enjoy it,” said Helen Bell-Necevski, Bell’s daughter who jumped out of the plane seconds after she did.
While Bell showed no signs of nervousness or trepidation about the sky dive, her daughter didn’t share those feelings.
“When we saw the previous divers as we pulled up, she got more excited and I got more shaky,” Bell-Necevski said. “When we were in the plane, she did not waiver a bit. She was solid as a rock.”
The flight and dive were administered by Pittsfield-based Vacationland Skydiving, which was also testing Robert LaFleur Municipal Airport as a possible location for future events.
An experienced sky diver, Vacationland Skydiving’s Matt Riendeau was the professional Bell was harnessed to in tandem. After landing, Riendeau was impressed with how enthusiastic Bell was during the experience.
“Honestly, she’s not your normal 80-year-old, I can tell you that,” Riendeau said. “For most people that I take in that age bracket, the dive is a little much. But she was really into it.”
Watching from the ground, heads cocked back and friends and family anxiously stared up at the sky, trying to spot the plane carrying Bell and the other jumpers. Seconds later, two small black spots appeared in the plane’s wake, as both Bell and her daughter started their free fall at speeds of up to 120 mph. After several seconds of high-speed free fall, two bright blue parachutes opened up, slowing the descent and allowing the skydivers to take in the bird’s-eye view.
“It was just wonderful,” Bell said.
At the moment the parachute opens the professional skydiver realizes if his tandem partner is enjoying the adventure.
“I can tell right when the parachute opens because that’s when you get your first reaction from the customer,” Riendeau said. “If they’re really quiet, then they’re either nauseous or uncomfortable. Right when the parachute opened up she said something like â€˜I feel so free’ and â€˜This is amazing.'”
Bell had wanted to jump out of a plane for the last 18 years after she visited Lake Wales in Florida and watched skydivers every night.
“I wanted to do it then, but the friends I was with wouldn’t let me because all my kids were back in Maine,” said Bell, a mother of seven and grandmother or great-grandmother to many more. “I’ve wanted to do it ever since.”
Living in Caribou, Bell wasn’t sure if there was a feasible way to cross skydiving off her bucket list until last fall, when Vacationland Skydiving traveled to nearby Ashland for a demonstration. It was here that Bell talked with the company and saw it was something that could be done.
“There are some extra considerations you take when diving with someone her age,” said Pete LaVay, a tandem instructor with Vacationland Skydiving. “You want to make sure they’re healthy enough and can move well enough.”
A veteran of more than 1,000 dives, LaVay was explaining the procedures to all the participants before the plane arrived.
“When we’re in the air and we open the door, it’s going to get very loud and noisy and windy,” he said. “Don’t freak out. It’s normal.”
After Bell and her daughter completed their successful first sky dive, a couple bottles of champagne were popped to celebrate their latest accomplishment.
“I think this was a pretty wonderful gift,” Bell said.
And while Bell was marveling over her skydiving experience, it was not too early for her to think about what she wanted to do on her 81st birthday
“I’d like to go on the zip line over Grand Falls,” Bell said with her family around her approving next year’s adventure.