Everything was crystal clear in the 10 seconds before I jumped out of a Skydive Kauai airplane, cruising at an altitude of 10,000 feet.
During the 30-minute flight to the drop zone, the air whipping in from the open door of the little Cessna 206 airplane kept me focused on my purpose, and the morning’s spectacular views of Waimea Canyon and Mount Waialeale offered only a slight distraction.
Adrenaline took the reins about three minutes away from the drop zone and a thousand muddled thoughts flew through my head. When it came down to the moment of truth, though, I was only thinking one thing: I couldn’t wait to jump.
“Right now, our hearts are beating the same — 170 beats per minute,” said Ralph Hermaine, my tandem jump instructor. “I’ve been doing this for 21 years and this is your first time, but we’re both going through the same thing.”
A lifetime happened in that 35-second free fall. At speeds of 120 miles per hour, each sense is sharpened, absorbing every aspect of the experience in hyperspeed.
And then, just as soon as I was able to settle into the full reality of the fall, Hermaine deployed the parachute.
In seconds, we went from plummeting to floating, and then we really got to check out the view.
“Welcome to my office,” Hermaine said.
The varied blues of the Pacific stretched out on one side and the dappled greens and browns of Kauai’s Westside took over the other half of the horizon. The entire effect stole away any breath left after the free-fall.
Skydivers switch from pandemonium to peace within seconds and it’s that feeling that spurred Dave Timko, owner of Skydive Kauai, to take up the sport decades ago — two days after he turned 18.
“I think after I landed from my first jump, I pretty much said ‘I’m going to do this,’” Timko said. “It was that euphoric high and it’s just beautiful, spiritual, whatever you call it. It’s something you have to do to understand it.”
Timko opened the doors of Skydive Kauai in January 2005, after retiring in 2001 from nine years on the pro tour of the National Skydiving League. Since then, Skydive Kauai has taken more than 25,000 people on tandem skydiving jumps.
The company usually averages about 2,500 jumps annually.
Owner addresses May tragedy
Tragedy struck Skydive Kauai in May, when one of the company’s three airplanes, a 1965 single-engine Cessna 182H Skylane, crashed after leaving the runway, killing five people.
The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the crash, and could take up to 18 months to release its findings. However, Timko said, the community jumped to its own conclusions in a firestorm of media attention after the accident.
Some said the engine stalled. Others said that the engine caught fire before crashing. Many called into question the age of the aircraft. Timko said he’s received demands to shut his doors because of the accident.
“The only people that can put out a credible comment (on what happened) is the NTSB. People are jumping the gun calling it engine failure,” Timko said. “There’s nothing out yet and we don’t know. There’s many things that could have happened.”
NTSB has determined there wasn’t fire on the aircraft until after it crashed.
Timko said the engine in the Cessna was only 2 years old and was at 900 hours, barely to the halfway point on the scale of when the engine needs to be changed. It was only the body of the airplane that was decades old, and that is made of sheet metal — a substance known to last.
“The age of the aircraft is not the age of the engine,” Timko said.
All of his aircraft are inspected annually, multiple times by the Federal Aviation Administration, Timko explained, and FAA “just doesn’t let us go out and do whatever we want.”
“Have you ever been driving your car and the engine shuts off for some unexplained reason and you have to pull over?” Timko asked. “Sometimes machines fail and an airplane is a machine. The only difference is, in an airplane you can’t pull over on the side of the road.”
Until all the facts are in on what happened that day, Timko said, it’s too quick to judge.
“Don’t hang somebody without evidence,” Timko said. “They seized my logbooks after and I wouldn’t be operating if I’d broken the rules.”
He continued: “At the end of the day, even if there was engine failure, why is that my fault? I’m the owner of the airplane. I’m a business owner, but I’m not the airplane mechanic.”
Many business owners, like those of bus or train companies, don’t shut down because of accidents, he explained, and he doesn’t have plans to do that, either.
“I have kids, and I have a family. It’s a business, and it’s a livelihood,” Timko said. “Unfortunately we had an accident, but that’s not what skydiving is about.”
Morale was low at Skydive Kauai after the accident, Timko said, because not only did they lose passengers Phillip and Marshall Cabe, the company lost a pilot, Damien Horan, and skydiving instructors Enzo Amitrano and Wayne Rose.
Amitrano had contracted with Skydive Kauai on and off for five years and Rose had been contracting with the company for three years.
“Loss of life is never easy, whether it’s friends or customers,” Timko said. “We have an emotional attachment to everyone that comes through that door. You’re sharing a bond — you guys are jumping out of an airplane together.”
Revenues dropped by half after the accident, but Timko said his business is back to picking up speed.
“People mention it all the time when they’re jumping, but people that want to skydive will skydive,” Timko said. “Some people are turned off and some realize what it was: an accident.”
A track record of three gold medals and multiple others from his days competing on the skydiving pro tour and the thousands of successful tandem dives his company has accomplished speak loud and clear for the company, Timko said.
“We’ve made a lot of jumps and there’s been a lot of smiling faces,” Timko said. “I’m pretty good at what I do. I only hire the best mechanics and I’ve got those standards for anybody that comes to work for me. I don’t take it lightly.”