The Air up There: skydiving Lost Prairie
Posted on 12 March 2016
The acrid smell of burning aviation gas filled the cabin of the DeHavilland Twin Otter.
Grasshoppers scattered in clouds out of the plane's way, as pilot Scott Larsen guided the Twin Otter down the dirt airstrip at Lost Prairie, a high-mountain airstrip about 40 miles west of Kalispell. In seconds, the lumbering plane was off the ground, followed by whoops and hollers from the 20 skydivers huddled inside the thin shell of an airplane. The jumpers had arrived for Skydive Lost Prairie's annual meet, a boogie that attracts hundreds of skydivers every summer.
Sitting on a long bench seat next to the cargo-bay door, we watched Lost Prairie fall slowly away. Inside the cabin of the plane, the skydivers chatted and made final plans for the formations they'd make when they jumped out of the plane at 13,000 feet above the ground. Van Halen's Jump and Ozzie Osborne's Mama I'm Comin' Home blared over the loudspeakers.
As the plane reached about 10,000 feet, a hush seemed to fall over the group; they retreated into themselves, and a calm came over them as the moment of truth drew near. One woman leaned on her husband's back, her eyes closed beneath her goggles. The others in this group, mostly men, now sat in a trance.
You ever jumped? one girl sitting across the aisle from me shouted as I fiddled with the controls on my camera.
Yeah right! I said with a smile. You're all nuts!
Sitting next to the minivan-sized exit door, I had not just one seat belt on, but I'd wrapped another seat belt around me and held on tightly to another. The officials at Skydive Lost Prairie had given me a parachute to wear in case the plane had problems, but I wasn't too confident in its " or my " abilities to land safely. The Army-green chute looked as if it had been used in World War II and had been bought at a garage sale. If this plane went down, by all rights I was likely going with it.
The plane leveled off, one by one a row of lights at the rear of the plane flashed: first red, yellow, then green. At this signal the skydivers, in pairs, unclipped their seatbelts and ambled to the rear of the plane.
They held onto an iron bar over the door, their backs to the rushing wind.
Soon they were gone, falling into the wild blue yonder over Lost Prairie.
Coming in on final approach to Skydive Lost Prairie in Marion, Montana. Dave Reese photo