Throughout my career, I have been asked on many occasions if I had ever ejected from an aircraft or in lighter terms do I have the same number of take-offs and landings. The answer is yes I do for aircraft that I was flying. The same cannot be said for other aircraft that I was not flying.
This story began when I was undergoing my second attempt at the lead in fighter course on the Macchi aircraft at No 2 Operational Conversion Unit based at RAAF Base Williamtown, New South Wales. During the course, the Squadron Leader in charge of the course decided that we should all complete a parachute course involving just one jump from a Caribou aircraft. I was not happy and vehemently opposed the idea. The Squadron Leader, a certain Ian Thompson (nicknamed Whale) proceeded to apply pressure at every opportunity and in the end used the younger and more junior members of my course, who agreed to do the jump, to embarrass me into agreeing to do it. At this time the Army’s parachute training school was also based at Williamtown which made the organisation of the exercise quite easy.
On the day of the course, we were given training in all aspects of how to go about departing the aircraft, checking for a good parachute, coping with emergencies such as entanglement, and finally how to land in the water. The program was then outlined to us where three of us would exit the aircraft on each run and be picked up by work boats waiting in the water below us. Incidentally, the place where we were to jump was Nelson Bay, a resort town not far from the base. The aftermath of the jump would be a barbecue and beer on the shoreline for the survivors.
The training lasted all morning and following that, we climbed into the Caribou to set off for the dreaded jump. We were organised into four lots of three with Whale Thompson to go first followed by me then another member of the course. As we were boarding the aircraft I remarked to Whale Thompson that I might end up refusing to jump because it wasn’t compulsory and the Defence Force law of the day reflected that. Whale Thompson turned to me and said “Frawley, I know the crew of the Caribou and they will make sure you jump ya bastard!”. Unbeknownst to Mr Thompson I actually did know the Caribou crew from my days as a C-130 Hercules pilot because they shared the same base and we often had drinks together there. So I set up a prank on Mr. Whale.
As the moment of truth approached the Caribou loadmaster opened the back door and ramp of the aircraft and made the first three stand and attach our static lines to the wire that ran the length of the aircraft. This would automatically open the parachute once the static line reached the end of its travel. So standing there I said to Mr Whale “Once your parachute opens turn around and give me a wave”. He replied “righto”. The green light for jump now flashed on and Mr. Whale proceeded to make his jump and as his parachute opened he turned around only to see me waving from inside the Caribou and the back door and ramp closing while the aircraft flew away. Apparently, he thought that the whole course had decided not to jump and his descent into the water was marred by his realisation that he had been fooled.
The problem was that while that prank was very funny for all we were now committed to making the jump as well. Unfortunately for me, that meant that I would be the next out of the aircraft and I would be picked up by the same boat that Mr. Whale was in, whereby I would be at his mercy.
And for the jump, as I stood up and looked down I noticed that the angle of the aircraft ramp was very steep and I hadn’t anticipated that fact. That and the sight of the water, way below, caused me to freeze at the exit. So instead of the training exit of arms across the chest feet together and small deliberate steps to exit the aircraft, a firm push in the middle of my back from the loadmaster resulted in an exit that resembled that of a chicken being thrust into the same predicament with arms and legs flailing all over the place until the parachute opened. I also distinctly remember the water seemingly rushing up at me until the parachute opened. That was a rush I never want to experience ever again.
So now floating down from 2,000 feet all was quiet and actually pleasant. Then I became aware of someone screaming abuse, looking down I saw the pick-up boat approaching to pull me from the water and Mr. Whale pointing at me and yelling obscenities at me. Fortunately, the Army boys in control of the boat ignored Mr. Whales’ insistence that I should be made to swim ashore.
In the end, Squadron Leader Thompson saw the funny side of the whole thing and the remainder of the day was very pleasant. However, I never want to jump from a perfectly good aircraft ever again.