Train Landing

I absolutely have to laugh every time I think back to this stunt. The bottom line is that I was a total and complete idiot. I have no problem admitting it. Whenever somebody comes up to me and talks about the show, they always bring up this foolish act. Obviously it stands out as an icon for the ridiculous nature of the things I do for a living. 

This stunt was never originally planned for our first season of episodes. We had already aired the ratchet stunt and figured that was enough messing around with trains for a while. But then in the middle of January (2000), 'N Sync came out with their now famous hit "Bye Bye Bye", with the video where they apparently get dropped onto a moving train.  Somebody at MTV saw the video and immediately called me to find out if that was possible with a parachute. It didn't sound like such a smart idea to me, but I told them that I would consider it if they found a train and a long stretch of straight railroad tracks. In less than an hour they tracked down the exact same train that was used in the video. I decided what the hell. I would go for it.

It was only one week from the day that the 'N Sync video debuted that we were at the sight to shoot the stunt. I had to be there at 5:30 AM because it tended to get windy in that area during the day. It would have to be almost perfectly calm to pull this one off safely. Since there would be a train, a camera truck, a helicopter and an ultralight to take me up to altitude, it took some serious planning to get things off the ground. We had to calculate the average amount of time it would take for me to do a skydive, open my parachute and land. Then the train needed to be run up from a standstill and reach the camera truck at full speed in that same amount of time. This was practiced a few times until it seemed just right. But since all the times were estimated, there was still plenty of potential for error. And because the train cost $11,000 a day, today would be the only day we would get. 

At around 11:00 in the morning, we were finally ready to make an attempt. I was totally geared up and nervous as hell. I could feel a breeze beginning to stir, so I knew this one jump would be my only chance. That was a lot of pressure. I climbed into the ultralight, acting as calm as possible in front of the camera, and we took off. On the ride to altitude, I went through the entire procedure in my head. I decided that all I should concentrate on was nailing the center of the train car and not worry about all of the timing issues. I knew that the helicopter would be close to me, but I couldn't bother myself with that. The next issue was to make sure to cut my parachute away from my harness as soon as I touched down on the train. If I didn't do that in time, I would be dragged backwards and fall off of the train. There was a lot going on with this stunt, but I was determined to pull it off.

When I felt that the ultralight was in position, I gave a countdown on the radio and made my jump. I pulled immediately so that the timing would be correct. But for some reason, my parachute hesitated to come out. I waited an extra 3 seconds or so before it finally opened. I knew that the timing was off now. But I was going to still go for it. I saw the train picking up speed and I realized I was too low to get into the necessary position to shoot an accuracy approach. I was going to end up coming in from behind the train, which wasn't the original plan. I radioed down to tell the train it was ahead of me, but I don't think anybody heard me. My position was crappy and it was time to make a go/no-go decision. I quickly changed my plan of attack and made a low, radical turn toward the tail end of the train. I knew this was a bad idea, but I felt that I could make it. I barely reached the end of the train and my feet touched down. I immediately cut my parachute away, but I hesitated one second too long. I got pulled backwards and fell off the back of the train. I frantically grabbed for anything within reach. I don't know if I got a hold of anything, but all of a sudden I just stopped. I didn't fall all the way to the tracks. I was laying on a piece of metal on the back of the train. This thing saved my ass!  I found out later it was called a diaphragm. I was one lucky son of a bitch. That's all I know. I couldn't help but laugh at how stupid I was. The safety coordinator was shaking his head and telling me I was a fool. He was right. We wrapped our shoot right then and there and decided that was it, even if nobody got the shot. Back at the edit bay, we saw that the shot wasn't the best, but it showed the drama. I watched and realized how idiotic I looked. Oh well. When the segment aired, friends from all over the country called me to tell me I had lost my mind. I laughed. In the end, online votes clearly credited this stunt as the most senseless of the season.

Ozone Firefly