KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine (AP) - Former President George H.W. Bush
marked his 85th birthday on Friday the same way he did his 75th and
80th birthdays: He leaped from a plane and zoomed downward at more
than 100 mph in freefall before parachuting safely to a spot near his oceanfront home.
Bush made the tandem jump from 10,500 feet with Sgt. 1st Class Mike Elliott of the Army's Golden Knights, who guided them to a gentle landing on the lawn of St. Ann's Church.
"Well, we made it. It was a great day in the air," Bush said after he was removed from his harness.
He said he enjoyed it so much that he planned to do it again when he turns 90.
When he was president, Bush was an avid jogger, speed golfer,
fisherman and tennis player. He said he has slowed down since then,
but he doesn't intend to stop moving.
He told reporters that he jumped Friday for two reasons: to experience the exhilaration of free-falling and to show that seniors can remain active and do fun things.
"Just because you're an old guy, you don't have to sit around drooling in the corner," he said. "Get out and do something. Get out and enjoy life."
His first parachute jump came when his plane was shot down over the Pacific in 1944 during World War II. He bailed out at 1,500 feet after a bombing mission over ChiChi Jima. His two crewmates didn't make it.
In 1997, Bush fulfilled a wartime promise he made to himself that someday he'd jump from a plane for fun by hopping out over Yuma, Ariz., and he jumped again on his 75th birthday at his library in Texas.
His days of solo parachuting ended at age 80 when bad weather forced him to scrap his plan to go alone. He made not one but two tandem jumps, both with Elliott, in Texas.
The skydiving jump marked Bush's seventh parachute leap from an
airplane. His last jump was in November 2007 at the reopening of his presidential library at Texas A&M University. He made that jump unannounced after having hip replacement surgery.
Friday marked his first jump over an ocean since World War II. Joining Bush was anchor Robin Meade from HLN, the cable network formerly known as Headline News. Meade also made a tandem jump with the Golden Knights.
Nancy Brindle, who works at Patten's Farm Stand in Kennebunkport, said she's surprised at the number of local residents who are concerned about Bush's safety but she wasn't worried.
"It's so much fun to live in Kennebunkport and be part of the excitement," she said. "It's a pleasure to be part of it all. It far outweighs any inconveniences."
Former First Lady Barbara Bush doesn't object to her octogenarian husband's fascination with skydiving.
"She is fine with it, particularly now that he does tandem jumps. She has so much trust and faith in the Golden Knights that she's fine with it," said Jean Becker, Bush's chief of staff.
Dr. Tom Perls, director of the New England Centenarian Study, applauded Bush for serving as an example to others - especially
seniors - to stay active.
"For Mr. Bush to have this attitude of, you know, carpe diem, really is spot on. Clearly age is not stopping him from doing something that he thinks is really fun, and thrilling," said Perls, a professor at Boston University. "Age, the number, should never stop somebody."
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