A thousand feet more, I thought.
"When we hit, brace with your hands on the basket," Piccard said. "Practice once now so we give each other room." We squatted, tight against each other in the four-by-five basket. The land was tilting away now. Oscillation, I thought. That's not good. A woods was now below, then a field of winter cover, and a barn growing large on my right. It would be hell to hit a barn.
"I'm throwing the heavy stuff," I shouted.
"Yes, everything. The seats."
Five hundred feet now. I had never seen it come up so fast in a plane. "We're going to clear the high tension wires," someone said. I saw wires. A road. I thought of my wife. I tried to recall past experiences that might serve me now, but only the words of Chris Kogel, an old gymnast, seemed to apply: "Break the fall with your arms. Then tuck. Tuck and roll."
"Watch the load ring," said Bryan. "It will come down on us when we hit."
"We're going into the man's peach trees," said Joan. Lines of green swept up. I never felt the impact. Suddenly we were back in the air, then rolling, bounding, body against body in a brown darkness.
I was lying half across Connie Wolf's legs. Joan was somewhere to the right of me moaning. She had broken a leg and foot. Bryan and I had broken toes. None of us knew how we had come out of it so lightly, or cared to think how much worse it might have been. We had come down 2,000 feet a minute, impacting with three times the force of a standard parachute fall.
"YOU WERE LUCKY"
I stood by the battered equipment, while the others took Joan to a hospital. A Mr. Blaine Heritage, who had been walking his dog as we flashed over at 100 feet told me, "You were lucky. Missed the wires, hit in the asparagus field, bounced four feet up again and landed in the barley."