Still flying high at 89

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Keizer’s George Thompson, 89, gets ready to jump out of an airplane for a skydive with his instructor last Friday, Oct. 4. (Photo courtesy George Thompson)

Keizer’s George Thompson, 89, gets ready to jump out of an airplane for a skydive with his instructor last Friday, Oct. 4. (Photo courtesy George Thompson)

By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes

George Thompson figured he was setting a record last week.

He didn’t, but that didn’t bring him down.

Jumping out of the plane at 13,000 feet, however, did bring the 89-year-old down to earth.

Three days after his birthday, George went with son-in-law Dale Rieb to Molalla to go skydiving last Friday, Oct. 4.

“I planned to do that on my 90th birthday,” said George, who along with wife Ruth has lived at Emerald Pointe Senior Living Community since 2008. “Then I thought if for some reason I can’t do it on my 90th birthday, I might as well do it now. I thought I might be the oldest skydiver in Oregon, but my instructor said he’d taken a 93-year-old.”

Jumping out of a plane at George’s age may seem extreme, but it’s actually fitting.

“I’ve always been interested in flying,” he said. “I built my first model airplane when I was 7. As soon as I was out of military service, I took flight lessons and got my private license.”

George built and flew three small aircraft, racking up approximately 1,000 hours in the air before hanging up the goggles in 2006.

“I quit and sold my airplanes,” he said. “I knew I was getting to a place where I wasn’t feeling comfortable anymore,” said George, who was 81 at the time. “When you do that, you know you have to quit.”

A master mechanic and later an inspector until retiring in 1986, George still takes several aviation magazines and maintains his interest in flying.

When the Thompsons moved to Keizer from Arizona, George gave up the shop in the home he had built.

“I’ve been pretty calm up here,” George said. “Skydiving was the only thing I wanted to still do. I still keep up on flying. It’s in your blood, I guess. I do miss flying.”

For about three years, George thought about skydiving.

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“I get itchy not doing anything,” he said. “I’ve always been a doer. I had a nice shop in Arizona. I was always building or fixing things.”

Last month, George and Rieb watched skydivers in Molalla.

“I thought, ‘That looks pretty neat,’” George recalled. “I wanted to do it right away.

I said to Dale, ‘I’m going to jump on my birthday.’ He said, ‘I’m going, too.’ I said, ‘OK, come along.’”

One who didn’t come along was Ruth, his wife of 56 years.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Ruth said of her initial reaction to the news. “He does crazy things, but I didn’t think that was one of them. But he pretty much has a mind of his own and wouldn’t give in.”

Being a bit nervous, Ruth didn’t feel inclined to go.

“If anything happened to him, I would die,” she said. “If he didn’t make the right descent, I couldn’t take it. So I stayed home.”

As a first time skydiver, George jumped out of the plane with his instructor.

“You tandem jump at first,” George said. “You’re tied tightly to the guy in front. He steers you down, but you’re the first one down. You don’t ever raise your arms over your head. You keep your arms folded until the chute pops. Then you can open your arms and steer. I kept my arms to myself like a good boy. You jump at 13,000 feet, freefall down to 5,000 feet, then pop the chute and coast down the rest of the way.”

So what was the dive like?

“The freefall wasn’t what I expected, but I don’t know what I expected,” George said. “You sit on the edge of the plane, your feet hang out and then you scoot out. Then you start falling. The rush of the air was more than I expected. You’re going 120 mph. When the chute popped, it was a beautiful ride.”

George noted a diver has to keep the legs out in front while landing and land on the butt.

“Would I do more? I don’t know,” George said. “I don’t think so. I don’t think I can physically do it. I barely had my feet high enough.”

Ruth appreciated getting a call that things were okay.

“That was a relief,” she said. “I just can’t imagine anyone doing such a crazy thing.”

Now that her husband has done it, has Ruth changed her tune about going for a dive herself?

“Me? No way, Jose,” she said. “Oh no.”

While he may not do it again, George is satisfied.

“I’m very glad I did it,” he said.

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