Bush celebrates 85th by skydiving over Maine

Staff reports Updated: June 12, 2009 at 12:00 am • Published: June 12, 2009

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine - 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 (160 kph) in freefall before parachuting safely to a spot near his oceanfront home.

Bush made the tandem jump from 10,500 feet (3,200 meters) 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.

"It's a great, exhilarating feeling," he said after he was removed from his harness. "I don't feel a day over 84."

He said he enjoyed the jump 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," Bush said. "Get out and do something. Get out and enjoy life."

All five of Bush's children, including former President George W. Bush, were there, along with 14 grandchildren, two brothers and a sister.

Elliott said he was "definitely nervous" because of Bush's age and the presence of his entire family.

"What we do is inherently dangerous, so there's always some risk, but we pride ourselves on safety and make sure everything goes as planned. And today it went without a hitch," he said.

Bush's 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 (457 meters) after a bombing mission over ChiChi Jima. His two crewmates did not make it.

In 1997, Bush fulfilled a wartime promise he made to himself that someday he would jump from a plane for fun by hopping out over Yuma, Arizona, 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.

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.

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