Fearless Wigan pensioner, 85, takes on white-knuckle skydive

A fearless pensioner has achieved a lifetime ambition by plunging from a plane in a white-knuckle skydive for a leading local charity aged 85.

Tuesday, 20th August 2019, 11:01 am
Leslie Cunliffe

Leslie Cunliffe, from Garswood, ticked off one of his major bucket-list experiences by making the leap thousands of feet above the Earth strapped to an instructor.

After decades of wanting to do a skydive Leslie was finally able to achieve his ambition as part of a fund-raiser for Wigan and Leigh Hospice (WLH).

Leslie wanted to do the jump in memory of Derek Speakman, who was a friend when the two served alongside each other in the Army in Cyprus in the 1950s.

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Leslie Cunliffe

Both wanted to transfer to the Parachute Regiment but whereas Leslie decided not to make the move Derek did and was later killed on the island during the military operations there.

Leslie said he was delighted to have achieved his goal, though he admits it was not an entirely smooth ride.

He said: “I was last on the plane and first out. I was strapped to this gentleman who was an ex-Paratrooper and he told me that when the green light came on we would just go, with no hesitation.

“When we went it was wonderful, flying down like a bird.

“I had been told that after about 5,000 feet the parachute would open and we would go down like that for the last 6,000ft. When the parachute opens, though, it shoots you up.

“We got into the thermals and were spinning around like a top. I didn’t like that one bit. I felt sick as a dog but managed to control it.

“When we landed we were discussing it and the gentleman I did the jump with said he doesn’t mention that part beforehand because some people will not do it if they do.

“After that we started gliding down and I could see all the family outside the restaurant waiting. We made a perfect landing.

“I was quite pleased. It has been on my bucket list for quite a while.”

Leslie signed up to do the skydive for the Hindley-based charity at the start of the year but the jump was postponed several times for weather and health reasons.

His daredevil efforts have certainly benefitted the charity, with £1,400 raised for WLH so far and more money still coming in.

Leslie originally tried to do a skydive for the air ambulance service several years ago but that did not happen.

Before the Black Knights centre would let him take the plunge he had to demonstrate he could lift his legs and wear the required harness in a hangar.

He said the parachute base told him he was the second-oldest skydiver they had had there.

Leslie’s family had very mixed feelings about his white-knuckle exploits and he admits wife Shirley even offered to pay a large sum of money for him not to go ahead with it.

However, his relatives made the journey to Lancaster to see the skydive and relations and friends as far afield as the USA have chipped in with sponsorship.

The hospice was also extremely impressed with his feat.

Christine Edwardson, community fund-raiser for WLH, said: “I’m thrilled that Les has been able to do his sky dive. I know it meant a lot to him and it was lovely to see him so happy once he had done it.

“He has also raised a fantastic amount of money to help other people in his community.”