Former President George H.W. Bush celebrated his 80th birthday Sunday by parachuting twice onto the grounds of his presidential library. Both great leaps were made in tandem with more experienced jumpers from the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute team from Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
After the jump Bush encouraged others. "Don't just sit around watching TV talking to it. Get out there and realize at 80 years old you still got a life. And that is what this was about. "I like speed and I like the thrill of it, but that second part is, I think it sets an example for older people... because you are 80 years old that doesn't mean you are out of it, out of the game."
Stiff winds led Bush to cancel plans for the second jump to be done solo. Bush's first jump occurred at 7:45 a.m. (8:45 a.m. ET) and his second at 1:20 p.m. (2:20 p.m. ET).
His exit from a twin-engine DeHavilland DHC-6 Twin Otter turboprop plane traveling at 120 mph at an altitude of 13,000 feet was made in the company of six soldiers, three of whom had cameras attached to their helmets. About 60 seconds of free fall were followed by five to eight minutes of gliding onto a landing on a grassy field, near where he plans to be buried. Two Secret Service agents accompanied Bush on the plane, but did not jump.
Several hundred people, including former first lady Barbara Bush, witnessed the event. Also watching the jumps was former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who said he turned down an invitation from Bush to participate as a jumper. "I'll consider it maybe for his 90th birthday," Gorbachev told reporters.
Bush's second jump was preceded by separate jumps by actor Chuck Norris and Fox News Anchor Britt Hume, both of them also done in tandem.
The leaps marked Bush's fourth and fifth parachute jumps. The first wasn't planned. As a Navy pilot during World War II, Bush bailed out of his plane when his torpedo bomber was hit by anti-aircraft fire south of Japan. His two crewmen died. Bush last jumped on June 9, 1999, in celebration of his 75th birthday.
Last week, Bush told CNN's Larry King he wanted to send a message that "just because you're 80, that doesn't mean you can't do fun stuff or interesting things."
With his five official jumps, Bush has enough to earn a skydiver's pin.
Asked whether his father would indeed celebrate a future birthday by jumping again, Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida told reporters, "I hope so. ... I want my dad to live forever."
Bush's jump actually came a day after his birthday, which he celebrated Saturday in Houston with a gala dinner at Minute Maid Park, home of the Astros.
A number of foreign dignitaries attended, including Gorbachev and former British Prime Minister John Major. Other famous faces on hand included comedian and CNBC host Dennis Miller, tennis star Chris Evert and pro golfer Greg Norman.
The guests were entertained by stars of country and Christian music, including singers Clint Black, Vince Gill, Amy Grant and Yolanda Adams.
Proceeds from the event will go to the George Bush Forty-One endowment, which helps fund the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation, the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and the Points of Light Foundation. Jim McGrath, a spokesman for the group "[email protected]," which helped organize the events, said the 41st president "remains actively involved in all three of these organizations."
In light of former President Ronald Reagan's death, McGrath also said on the group's Web site: "Given the charitable nature of these events, we believe President Reagan would be the first to say 'the show must go on.' "