WITH her legs dangling from a plane soaring at more than 4260 metres over Coffs Harbour on the state’s north coast, 12-year-old Charlotte Bennett-Hill was grappling with the most exhilarating but scariest moment of the skydive: letting go.
“Even though I have done it before, I was still scared,” said Charlotte. “But then I realised I was scared of fear itself, not jumping out of a plane.”
With that, she relaxed her white-knuckled grip on the pole, gave a nod to her tandem-master father and they hurtled towards earth at 200km/h. “I love the flip at the start because afterwards you’re flying.”
Stephen Hill, the owner of Coffs City Skydivers who has logged nearly 6000 jumps, made sure his daughter was well prepared before she took her first plunge at the age of 10. “It had a fantastic, positive effect on her life,” he said.
Her second dive was in April with six of her friends, aged 12 to 17, from Free Spirit Girl, a group in Newtown that aims to empower and support teenage girls.
Before their ascent, the girls discussed worries that might be holding them back and were encouraged to see skydiving as a metaphor for overcoming these obstacles.
The Australian Parachute Federation is now allowing children aged 12 to 14 years to tandem-skydive, with parental consent but without having to obtain written permission from the association’s director of safety.
Robert Parker, an exercise physiologist at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, opposes the change because, he said, of the huge physical and mental variations in development at the age of 12, compared with chronological age.
“During rapid growth there is a temporary decline in balance and body control and the body’s centre of gravity is changing and limbs become longer,” Dr Parker said. “This results in disequilibrium and the potential for injury.”
Chloe Stolzenhein, 17, dedicated her first plunge to her older sister Renee who committed suicide in October. The HSC student from Woolgoolga “went into a bubble” and isolated herself from friends for many months after the loss. “The skydive was a huge step for me and going to the workshops afterwards helped me heal … I knew my sister would be proud of me.”
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