"f**k," said Bill.
Bill was my instructor, and he was strapped to my back. That's how tandem skydiving works: The customer, who has no training in skydiving, is harnessed to the instructor, who's done this a million times before. It's the safest way to skydive. When I met Bill that morning, strutting toward me with spiked black hair and slick sunners, he seemed supremely confident. But now he was panicking, and that was all the confirmation I needed that this jump had gone horribly wrong.
We began spiraling out of control. We spun so rapidly that one of my shoes flew off and was lost forever, even though the staff had gone to some trouble to make sure all my clothing was tight and secure before I boarded the plane.
Parachutes can fail. There are no official stats on how often this happens -- the community throws around the ballpark figure of once every thousand times -- and that's because failure isn't such a big deal, since there's always a backup. When the main chute fails, you release the reserve chute, which is packed very carefully and so fails very rarely. Only one in every 150,000 jumps ends in a fatality, thanks to the reserve chute.
"Keep your knees up," said Bill, aiming to steady us as much as possible while he let the reserve chute loose. He pulled a cord, and the chute popped out. And above me, I saw it hopelessly tangled with the chute that was already out there. Neither chute had inflated.