- Associated Press - Friday, July 17, 2015

HERINGTON, Kan. (AP) - The first time Eli Hernandez jumped out of an airplane, he didn’t have much choice.

It was 1943, World War II was in full swing and the Kanopolis native was a paratrooper in the Army. At the age of 19, he trained at Fort Benning, Georgia.

“I don’t ever remember being nervous,” Hernandez said this month, as he prepared for what would be his eighth lifetime skydive. The last one was 71 years ago. “When you have 13 people in an airplane, one behind the other, when the green light goes on, it’s all automatic. You become a robot. The guy in the back is pushing you and you are pushing the guy in front and before you know it, you’re out the door.

“It’s when you get to the ground that things start happening. You start looking for your buddies and they are nowhere around.”

Hernandez recently fulfilled a birthday wish, voluntarily jumping out of an airplane while his four daughters and other family members waved American flags to cheer him on.

Hernandez turned 90 in April. He was scheduled to jump in May at the Abilene Airport, home of the K-State Parachute Club, but the jump was postponed because of weather. His daughters had returned from Colorado, Missouri, Indiana and Illinois to witness the jump, the Salina Journal (http://bit.ly/1JdGHH5 ).

Hernandez’s jump was at the Herington Airport because the Abilene runway was being repaired.

His oldest daughter, Antonia Hernandez, died in 2000.

Elena Gonzalez, Beatrice Price, Sheila Glass and Brenda Jimenez were on hand to watch their dad make a tandem jump with instructor Troy Barnt.

“It was fantastic. All 90-year-old men in this world should do this once in their life,” Hernandez said after falling from 10,000 feet. “I’m 90. You have to have things to do.”

His daughter, Sheila Glass, of Chicago, said she wasn’t surprised at her dad’s request to relive the skydiving experience.

“Dad has done a number of different things in my life,” Glass said. “When he wakes up in the morning and he says this is what I am going to do today, I say, Okay, let’s go do it.’ He’s made it to 90 and done all these crazy things. He loves being outdoors. He loves taking roads where you don’t know where you are going to end up. He wants to see what this country is all about.”

Price said her dad has lived most of his life helping others.

“He was always trying to make other people happy. His daughters are now older, either married or with great careers. They are taking care of themselves,” she said. “Now Dad, at 90 years of age, has chosen to live for himself. Dad now is going to do things for Dad. He supported us as we were younger. We now support him as he is older.”

Hernandez said he wanted to skydive again because it’s fun.

“And I don’t have anybody shooting at me,” he said.

While in the Army, he made seven jumps.

“One was a communication jump daytime and one was nighttime. The daytime, the first jump was 1,200 feet. The night one was at 600 feet,” he said.

“Six hundred?” questioned one of his daughters. “Not 6,000?”

“Six hundred feet,” he repeated.

“It was all static. You hook up and look up. It was all done automatically,” he said.

In World War II, he used a T 5 parachute, which made the landing much harder.

“I think at that time you were coming down at 32 feet per second,” he said.

According to John Lill, of Manhattan, who was manning the K-State site, the United States Parachute Association requires people to jump from at least 2,500 feet. He said the “deck zone,” which is when the parachute should be open, is 2,000 feet.

Hernandez was on the front line when forces broke into Germany in World War II. He was wounded in battle as he was securing a location behind enemy lines.

He has been awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Medal and the Purple Heart. Just recently, he was awarded the Knight of French Leagues, the highest honor given by the French to someone from another country.

Barnt, of McPherson, who made the jump with Hernandez, has made close to 400 tandem jumps and 1,600 single dives.

“It’s fun. You learn something new every time,” he said. “There is so much you can do in this sport.”

It took 36 minutes for the airplane to reach 10,000 feet. Colter Kraft, of Abilene, one of two pilots for the K-State airplane, said because of the hot temperature, close to 100 degrees on Sunday, it takes longer to reach jumping distance.

The freefall lasted about 35 seconds.

“To me, that’s a lot of time. For somebody that has never done it before, it goes really fast,” Barnt said.

___

Information from: The Salina (Kan.) Journal, http://www.salina.com

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide