He jumps at mention of a picnic

August 11, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

Lee Hulett dropped into his company picnic yesterday from 5,000 feet, applauded by his co-workers.

"He is flying like the wind, like a pilot without a plane," said Regina Sell as she stared at the parachutist plunging through the clouds toward Cascade Lake. "He is falling so fast."

About 120 mph during the 10 seconds before he opened his chute, said the 69-year-old sky diver.

The Baltimore Life insurance agent waved and moved his legs in an airy dance before he landed at the deep end of the Hampstead lake at 12:22 p.m., yelled "Yee-whoo!," doffed his equipment and swam briskly to shore.

"It's like walking on air," said Mr. Hulett as he toweled off and caught his breath. "I had such a nice approach that I had time to undo my chest and leg straps."

After his "excellent fall and really soft landing," he said, "I feel like a million dollars. My adrenalin is pumping, and I'm hungry for a hamburger."

Russell Peregoy, 9, said, "I would like to try that. Maybe, I could land with a skateboard."

"Possible, but the law says you have to wait until you are 18," said Mr. Hulett, a sky-diving instructor who says he sells life insurance for excitement.

"When he makes a sales call, people either buy insurance or set up a parachute jump with him," said Ruth Reagan, another agent in the Westminster office.

During his mile dive, Mr. Hulett encountered only one problem.

"The pilot tells me the right time to get out of the plane," he said. "But, the wind pressure kept closing the door. We both had to push."

The picnickers had lined the piers and scanned the skies for an hour as they awaited Mr. Hulett's arrival.

"We have never had a picnic like this before," said Beverly Kinser, district administrator. "I have seen pictures of Lee's jumps, but today I will see the real thing."

Like any shrewd agent, Ralph Sell said, "we all took policies out on him."

David Griffin, district manager, smiled and confirmed that his agent was "insured through Baltimore Life."

Mr. Hulett assured the sky watchers that they could identify the Cessna plane as it flew over the lake.

"I think we'll know which plane is his," said Mr. Sell. "It's not like there is much air traffic here."

Shortly after noon, the plane made its first pass across the lake.

"He will make several passes until he reaches the right altitude," said Lloyd Hulett, witness to many of his father's jumps. The son said he no longer worries.

"Dad is confident with his training and safety devices," he said. "He loves doing this stuff and does several demonstrations a month. This is just a simple hop and pop."

The graceful fall into Cascade Lake was much safer than Mr. Hulett's first experience as a teen-age paratrooper in World War II. He calls the jump into France on Aug. 15, 1944, as his "scariest and most dangerous."

"Then, the Germans were trying to kill me," he said. "I remember that first plane ride and that first jump every time I get ready to jump."

As a paratrooper, he carried demolition bags on each leg and mortar shells on his arms. He landed miles off course, on the roof of a German barracks.

"I woke them up," he said.

Since 1944, he has completed 1,307 jumps, including one in France two months ago during the 50th anniversary D-Day observance. With 50 years of practice, he landed right on target before thousands of cheering spectators.

Among his jumps, he counts eight "reserve rides" when his main chute didn't open.

"I really am a fugitive from the law of averages," he said. "My motto is 'You call, I fall.' Still, I want to reach 70 in November, so I wouldn't do anything too dangerous."

Just last week, he plunged into a pig roast. He plans a commemorative jump with the 517th Infantry in Georgia on Monday and a dive into the Colorado River this month.

"I always am nervous," he said. "There are only two kinds of parachutists: scared and crazy. I'm scared."

He also makes a guest appearance from the sky at an annual nudist convention.

"On clothes-option dives, you tighten the straps more," he said.

He wore bathing trunks yesterday and flotation devices to minimize water damage to his equipment.

He shies away from water landings, which can damage equipment, he said. But, in a pre-jump scouting trip to the lake, he found "not much landing area except trees, which I don't want to hang from."

Patrick Flynn, owner of the resort, suggested a water landing and provided three boats and a lifeguard.

"We try to anticipate all emergencies," Mr. Hulett said. "I take a deep breath and say Hail Marys, and then I jump."

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