It was a beautiful night under the clouds, with unlimited visibility. Shea's lights reflected against the clouds and the stadium itself could be picked out from almost 60 miles away. Says Sergio, "If you monitor the frequency of the Tower Control Area [TCA] and have radar, you can know more about the airspace than they do." Sergio says La-Guardia Runway 31, the one that sends planes almost directly over Shea, was closed that night. He also says that air traffic was being diverted elsewhere because of the presence of the Goodyear Blimp over Shea. The FAA says otherwise: Two airliners were in the vicinity of Shea within two minutes of Sergio's flight.
As Sergio and his companions flew toward the stadium, a problem suddenly appeared. They planned to be in jump position just before the end of the pregame show so they would sail into the stadium with their own flag and banner during the national anthem. But last-minute preparations had cost them some time before takeoff and they were flying into a headwind. They weren't going to make it during the anthem; instead they were going to drop into the first inning. As they listened to the end of the pregame show, the man with the flag decided not to jump. Sergio would go it alone.
About six miles away from Shea, the pilot kicked the right rudder hard, banking the Cessna so the gull-wing door fell open in the plane's shadow. Sergio grabbed the wing strut and stuck his head out to track their speed and direction along the ground. He signaled the pilot. A little more than three miles away, the plane was lined up with Shea. It was Sergio's day—made possible by the favor owed to Quinn—and there was no turning back.
Normally a plane's engines are throttled back before a jumper leaves, but Sergio had a couple of miles to fly to reach Shea and he needed all the momentum possible. He would have to leave the plane while it was at full throttle. Sergio lunged back and forth in the open doorway, like a downhill skier in the starting gate. On the third lunge, he plunged out of the aircraft into the night.
Every movement in free-fall is expended against a wall of air pushing the jumper at 120 miles per hour. The roar is deafening. Even under goggles one's eyeballs jiggle. Sergio arched his back, pointed his toes and brought his arms to his sides, like a sweptwing fighter plane. He fell for about 50 seconds, a mile down and about three quarters of a mile toward Shea. At 4.000 feet, he pulled his rip cord. Meshed in the rigging of a parachute is a "slider," a device that keeps the canopy from opening too fast. For an instant the slider jammed—it was hung up on the rope to the banner—but then it slipped free, the chute opened, and the bed sheet unfurled. "Shea under the lights was the most beautiful sight imaginable, like a crystal-green pool," says Sergio. He knew he had about four minutes under the parachute canopy before he hit the ground. Within a couple of minutes he was directly over the stadium lights, spiraling down. He could see that the Red Sox were still at bat, and he tried to locate the ball so he could decide whether to land on the field or turn away to the parking lot.
"Then [pitcher Bob] Ojeda threw the ball to [Gary] Carter." Sergio says. "Carter dropped it for a second. I could see the play was dead, and I turned into the stadium. I heard a roar. I was confused because there was no play going on, and then I realized the noise was for me. I wanted to land on home plate, but Carter and the umpire were not moving, so I cut toward the first base line. The fans were on their feet screaming—all those smiling faces." As the police escorted Sergio off the field, Ron Darling slapped him a high five.
By the time Sergio touched down, the Cessna was about 10 miles away. By the time anyone thought to call the FAA, the plane was more than 20 miles away. Over Kobelt the pilot banked out of his approach pattern to check for police, then landed. Quickly he shut down the plane and then drove away in a car. At this point, the FAA was tracing another small plane that had inadvertently crossed through air traffic control. FAA agents would not get to Gardiner until the trail was cold—hours after the Mets had won Game 6 with the help of Bill Buckner's 10th-inning error that allowed New York to overcome Boston's 5-3 lead.
Quinn was at a wedding on Long Island when his friend parachuted into Shea. He had promised the bride and groom a special present. Quinn says he "was not at all surprised" when it was delivered. "No kidding, there he was."