Whilst Bear had done a great deal of parachuting during his time in the TA SAS, he had not undertaken nearly enough jumps to qualify him to freefall from a balloon to UK display standards.
Phill Elston, the Chief Rigger with the Royal Navy Raiders Display Team and expert parachutist, set to and instructed Bear at the Joint Service Parachute Centre (JSPC) Netheravon in the safety aspects and other drills required for safe parachuting. Following that Bear, Al and Phill spent two weeks at Perris Valley in California where Bear got in over 200 freefall descents and the bulk of the freefall and relative canopy work in order to get all the right ticks in boxes
Altitude and oxygen depletion
At an estimated height of 25,000ft, hypoxia, brought on by the lack of oxygen, was going to be a major problem for the team. The team underwent rigorous training and medicals with Dr Ollie Bird at the Royal Air Force Centre for Aviation Medicine, RAF Henlow, in order to teach them the dangers of hypoxia; the lack of oxygen at high altitudes. Initial safety briefs were followed by a medical and the issue of helmets and oxygen masks. In the hypobaric chamber they ‘climbed’ to 25,000ft and removed their oxygen masks. Tests that a child should complete with ease proved to be extremely difficult with oxygen starvation. However, both Bear and Al passed with flying colours.
No one said that it would be easy!
Bear Grylls and his wife Shara, along with Phill Elston, Alex Rayner, David Hempleman-Adams, Marcus Chidgey and I went to Reims in northern France in early May 2005 as guests of GH Mumm.
The plan was for the balloon to fly over the Mumm vineyards and have Bear & Phill jump. Following that there would be a reception at the Mumm HQ in Reims. Sadly, bad weather and strong winds precluded anything further than a site recce and unfolding the balloon. A champagne reception and a tour of 16kms of Mumm's cellars proved ample compensation though!
Trials, Hypoxia & France