Despite not being fond of heights, 61-year-old Alan Beck decided to take part in a 15,000ft tandem parachute jump at Peterlee Parachute Centre on Shotton Airfield to help raise funds for the Holy Trinity Church roof in South Hetton.
After an hour’s training, and a delay due to early morning fog, Alan took to the sunny skies with 12 fellow jumpers and made the plunge of almost three miles in front of family and friends.
“There were times during the last few weeks when it suddenly hit me what I had planned to do, but when it came to the day, I was quite relaxed and feeling really good about it. My original date for the jump was changed due to bad weather, and although I could have jumped 10,000ft, I really wanted to do the full 15,000 ft jump that I had been sponsored for, or I would have really regretted it. So although I was gutted, I postponed the jump to another day, which turned out to be a great occasion.
“I was the last jumper out of the plane, which gave me a few moments of fear but I just shuffled my way forward and then said ‘I just want to do it now’! The chute opened up at 5,000 ft and that is when I really started to enjoy it. It was an amazing experience, and the rush that you get is phenomenal. It was a bit scary at first when Simon was doing the turns, and I did say some words I cannot repeat in public, but in the end I even had a go at turning the parachute myself. I was told by some other jumpers that it is the best thing that you can do, and they were right! I was so glad I kept my eyes open, as I saw most of the north east coast, which looked beautiful.
He added: “There has been a bit of banter from the guys at work but they all think it was a fantastic thing to do, and some even said that they could not do it.”
The bus driver, who has worked for local bus operator Stagecoach North East for the past 35 years at the Sunderland deport, has spent the last six weeks visiting members of the South Hetton community to talk to them about the church, and has been overwhelmed by the support from local residents and businesses. The roof at the church in South Hetton is in desperate need of repair due to extreme bad weather and will not survive another winter, so £10,500 must be found for immediate restoration work, but with costs for additional long term repairs, the total bill will be £35,000.
Although now living in Washington, Alan used to live in South Hetton, and after accompanying his Dad to church every week, he became a regular member of the congregation and then a church warden.
Alan’s idea for the jump, however, first came about because of family. He said: “I thought about doing a parachute jump in some small part as a tribute to my father, who died two years ago. He did a jump 20 years ago, when you needed for more training sessions, and I thought he would be proud of me. I did consider doing something different, like a zip wire, but the parachute jump seemed the best idea of challenging my fear of heights!