Octogenarian honors late husband with skydive

Aug 11 2012 - 10:31pm

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OGDEN -- Clad in a bright yellow jumpsuit, 84-year-old Beth Johnson jumped from a plane Saturday to honor her late paratrooper husband on their 60th anniversary.

Johnson said she and her husband, Darrell had planned to jump together one day. Unfortunately, before they got around to it, Darrell became sick and died in August 2007.

"I remember him talking about how much fun he had and I would go to his military reunions and listen to everyone talk about it, so I decided it was something I wanted to do," she said.

Her husband wrote a book about his life in the service and in it, discussed the thrill of being a paratrooper.

"He went into the service in 1942 until after the war was over and then worked at Hill Air Force Base," she said. "This month would have marked our 60th wedding anniversary so I'm going to get in the plane and right after I jump I'm going to look up and say to him, 'I did it.' I think he'll be thrilled."

Johnson also said she wanted to jump to celebrate her 85th birthday in October. Right before she boarded the plane at the Ogden Skydiving Center at Ogden-Hinckley Airport, she wrote an 8 on one of her palms and a 5 on the other. As she jumped, she planned to hold her hands out to show the world how old she'll be.

"I'm excited but I have butterflies too," she said. "But I'm at the age where it doesn't really matter what happens. If I live I'll go on and live and if I don't I won't."

Johnson, who taught in the Ogden School District for 37 years, was accompanied by her grandson-in-law, Brady George, a Salt Lake City fire department captain who decided to jump along with her.

"I'm nervous but it's something I always wanted to do. I think it's a great opportunity to be able to share something so unique with my grandma," George said. "She is the sweetest lady you could ever meet. When you think of salt of the earth, that's her and I'm more excited for her to experience this than I am myself."

Ogden Skydiving Center owners Brian and Suzanne Wallace said they're amazed at the number of people in their 80s who have the desire to take the plunge.

"It's unusually amazing how adventurous they are and how involved they get," Suzanne said. "And it's equally amazing at what good health these folks are in. We usually see about 20 people a year in their 80s who come out and jump. It's a wonderful experience for them and they are so full of life and enthusiasm."

Right before boarding the plane, Johnson looked at her family with her big brown eyes and gave them a thumbs up.

After approximately 30 minutes, the plane reached 12,000 feet. That's when a tiny yellow speck could be seen from the ground. Less than three minutes later, Johnson safely landed. Her family and other onlookers cheered, clapped and even shed a few tears.

"Wasn't that great? I landed and it was wonderful," Johnson said as she returned to the hangar. "Just wonderful. I didn't want to free fall at all. I just wanted to pull the cord, but once I started free falling it was great. Absolutely a wonderful experience."

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