Bush takes a giant leap into big blue yonder

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The Independent Online
Bush takes a giant leap into big blue yonder

The former US president, George Bush, 72 years young, took to the skies over the Arizona desert yesterday to make the second parachute jump of his life, and his first "for fun".

Wearing a snazzy red, white and blue flying suit, provided by the US Parachute Association, and flanked by two of the US Army's crack Golden Knights parachutists, Mr Bush (right) leapt out of the plane over the Yuma army base, landing 20 minutes later without mishap.

Asked how he felt, Mr Bush - who was not known for demonstrativeness or exuberance as president - made a thumbs- up gesture and said: "Like that!"

It was almost 53 years since Mr Bush had made his first jump - for his life - when his fighter plane was shot down by the Japanese over the Pacific during the Second World War. The other two crew members were killed, but Mr Bush survived, winning the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery. Ever after, he was said to have promised himself that he would one day make a parachute jump that was not an emergency.

Fun or not, nothing was left to chance yesterday. Eight hours of training and a thorough medical check preceded the jump. And although a civilian plane was used, the two Golden Knights held the former president on a harness until his parachute opened at 4,500 feet. An emergency medical team stood by on the ground, just in case.

With his successful jump yesterday, Bush neatly turned the tables on his youthful vanquisher of the 1992 presidential election. Bill Clinton has now graduated to crutches, since turning up in a wheelchair for the Helsinki summit with Boris Yeltsin after damaging his knee in the singularly unadventurous act of falling downstairs.

Before the jump, a spokeswoman for the regional branch of the US Parachute Association said - in words that will provide consolation to any aspiring septuagenarian skydiver: "He's in good health, fit and perfectly capable of doing it." As, indeed, he proved.

Mary Dejevsky, Washington