Forty-first president George H. W. Bush has made a habit of jumping out of airplanes to celebrate milestone birthdays, and number 90 was no exception. The former president did a tandem skydiving jump early today near Kennebunkport, Maine. He has celebrated the same way for birthdays 75, 80 and 85. Being in a wheelchair did not stop Bush from continuing the tradition. This was his eighth parachute jump.
The elder Bush has been planning this event since his 88th birthday, when he said he thought he had one more jump left in him. He made his first jump in 1944, as a 20-year-old fighter pilot whose plane was shot down in the Pacific near the island of Chi Chi Jima, a Japanese installation. He suffered minor injuries after parachuting into open water, where he was rescued by an American submarine. He says he was scared coming down in the parachute, and scared while in the water swimming, but the incident set off a love of jumping out of planes. Bush said that first jump was not done quite right. He said he hit the tail of the plane with his head because he pulled the ripcord too early. This got him determined to jump again and do it right.
Bush’s 90th birthday skydiving adventure was a tandem jump with All Veterans Group members from about 6,000 feet. He floated for several minutes before landing in front of a cheering crowd of family and friends, tumbling face first onto the lawn. Aids got him back in his wheelchair without incident, and the former president flashed the thumbs-up sign.
Bush suffers from a type of Parkinson’s disease that has kept him mostly wheelchair-bound this past year. His struggles with the disease were revealed in an HBO documentary released in 2012. Son Jeb Bush said it is tough for a man who has been so vigorous and active in life to have to rely on a wheelchair to get around. In the documentary the elder Bush spoke about his life from childhood, to experiences as a naval fighter pilot, to his rise to the top of the political world. the documentary, titled 41, follows Bush for 17 months, from September 2009 to February 2011.
Today’s skydiving adventure was scheduled for 10:45 from Walker’s Point in Kennebunkport, Maine. The Bush family owns an estate there. He took the leap at about 11 a.m. from a helicopter, floating to the ground under a red, white and blue-striped parachute. Son former president George W. Bush and great-grandaughter Mila Hager were part of the crowd waiting to welcome him back to earth.
At about 6 a.m. today the 41st president sent out a Twitter message saying it was a wonderful day in Maine, “in fact, nice enough for a parachute jump.” The elder Bush may not be able to walk on his own any more, but he can still fly, making one wonder what he will do as a follow-up to a 90-year-old birthday skydive.
By Beth A. Balen