P.A. soldier’s jump a moment to remember

Perry
Perry Bergson
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Exactly 70 years to the day after a Douglas DC-3 dropped paratroopers over Normandy during the D-Day invasion, a Prince Albert soldier had a chance to jump from it in Alberta.

Chief Warrant Officer David Bibby made the jump at Abraham Lake, which is about 210 kilometres west of Red Deer along the David Thompson Highway.

The event combined an Airborne Association reunion and a D-Day ceremony.

For Bibby, it’s a day to remember that even included his parents Carman and Joan.

“It was really cool having all of those pieces all together,” he says. “Any one of them would have been a really big event. A water jump is really cool to do. Jumping out of a DC-3 is obviously fantastic. Having my parents there to watch me was obviously really good. Putting all of those together on D-Day as part of the Airborne Association reunion, fantastic.

“It was one of those things where each one just added on to the other until you get to an amazing time.”

Bibby grew up on a farm near Prince Albert, attending West Central, Wesmor and Carlton. He made the decision to join the Canadian Forces, and headed there in October of 1988 after helping with harvest.

Aside from Canadian postings in London, Petawawa and Edmonton, Bibby also served two tours in Bosnia and four in Afghanistan.

Bibby, first heard about the D-Day jump last December, but didn’t become involved until mid-May.

The jump took extra planning for a couple of reasons.

First, the soldiers would be jumping out of a civilian airplane, which is unusual.

Second, the airplane wasn’t a Hercules that they were accustomed to so they had to do extra training on the ground.

The Hercules is outfitted with a computer system that can detect wind conditions, a taller door and a special jump platform and a wind deflector for jumpers. The DC-3 has none of those features.

Also, since the door opens out on the DC-3, they flew to the lake with it open.

“That was definitely something that was quite cool,” the 43-year-old soldier says.

The 24 soldiers who were going to jump -- including 16 Canadians and eight Americans -- were originally supposed to jump on the afternoon of June 5, the day before the anniversary of the Normandy invasion, but the winds picked up and it wasn’t safe.

He said there no complaints from the soldiers, who were enjoying the chance to fly in the old warbird.

“Usually you’re ‘Aw, come on’ because the whole reason you’re doing this is to jump out of the aircraft,” he says. “Even as we got back, just being able to ride in it and go through what we did as part of the parachute thing in that DC-3 knowing it had dropped people on Normandy, that was really cool to begin with. The next day with everything lining up like it did was really fantastic.”

British soldiers from CFB Suffield were invited, although none jumped, along with American soldiers from a base in Washington state. The relationship dates back to the Devil’s Brigade, a joint Canadian-American commando unit that fought in World War Two.

Bibby says the American soldiers were also in awe of the timing and opportunity.

Bibby was scheduled to be the first jumper in the second of four passes, something he says is a thrill because your view is unobstructed.

With one minute to the jump, Bibby was up to the door but not facing it. At 15 seconds he turned in, squared to the door and waited for the command.

Bibby chuckles when he talks about jumping out of the DC-3.

“You really have to push yourself so that you don’t do we call counting rivets, when you hit the side of the aircraft as it flies by you.”

The soldiers were jumping from 1,250 feet, meaning it would be about a 40-second drop.

There’s little time to enjoy the ride because the fun begins immediately.

“Out of the corner of my eye as you leave the aircraft you can see the tail coming at you,” he says, adding that you would have to work hard to hit it.

He said by the time that you have thought, your parachute is already starting to deploy.

After beginning to descend, Bibby had to quickly check that the canopy was good, ensure that no other jumpers were too close and deploy the device that inflates his underarm water life preserver for the water landing.

He was finally free to enjoy the last 10 seconds of the jump.

“It was a really unique place to parachute,” he says. “You’re literally in between the two mountains, you have the gorgeous lake below, it was a beautiful day, sunlight, you could see the boats waiting to pick you up in the water. You could even see the crowds over on the side on the bank watching us. Knowing that my parents were in that crowd was really kind of cool too. Just the whole nine yards; you can still see the plane flying away.

“Taking all those pieces in was pretty inspiring.”

Despite wearing a wetsuit under his uniform, the lake was still cold when Bibby briefly plunged down under the surface. He quickly gathered the parachute that he had jettisoned in the final moments and waited to be picked up.

He was taken to shore moments later. One of his friends brought his parents down to meet him, although he notes he was a little wet for a hug at that point.

It was the 45th jump of Bibby’s career.

Mike McBryan, the general manager of Buffalo Airways and one of the stars of the reality TV series Ice Pilots, later did his first jump, a tandem ride from 12,000 feet.

A separate company from the battalion that specializes in mountain operations climbed to the nearby Normandy peak. Once there, they dropped the ashes of four veterans who had died during the past year.

About 120 people attended the special D-Day ceremony after the jump.

It was the perfect end to a day to remember for Bibby.

“You just imagine what that would have been like at Normandy with the anti-aircraft fire and the planes bouncing all around,” he says. “You kind of get that real sense of history in what you’re doing.”

Organizations: Prince Albert, Airborne Association, Canadian Forces Buffalo Airways

Geographic location: DC, Normandy, Alberta Red Deer London Petawawa Edmonton Bosnia Afghanistan Washington

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