He's jumped off a mountain cliff in New Zealand (with parachute attached), dangled from a helicopter off the coast of Vietnam, went parasailing in Mexico and hot air ballooning in Australia.

But one thing that longtime Detroit Lakes resident Ed Gehrke had never done was to jump out of an airplane at 8,000 feet above the ground - at least, until now.

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On Saturday, July 8, during the Northwest Water Carnival's Fly-In Breakfast at the Detroit Lakes-Becker County Airport, Gehrke decided to join about 190 of his fellow thrill-seekers in signing up for a tandem skydive with a professionally-trained team from Skydive Fargo.

"It was a last-minute decision," said Gehrke, noting that when he saw a bunch of skydivers landing at the airport, he walked over to where the Skydive Fargo team was gathered and asked, "Do you have room for one more?"

After signing a stack of liability waivers and taking part in a half-hour safety training session that included learning how to perform various safety procedures and keep his body properly positioned as well as doing a "realistic risk assessment," according to Skydive Fargo member Hans Nielsen, Gehrke was ready to take off with the three-person team that included pilot Bob Engstrom, tandem skydive instructor Karl Lips and videographer/photographer Sean Maki.

"They definitely let you know that you're taking a risk," Gehrke said of the training process. But when they asked him if he was nervous about the dive, Gehrke responded, "Not really."

"I said I wasn't nervous, just excited," he recalled later.

As the plane flew above the clouds, the instructor told him, "We're halfway there."

"One thing I wasn't aware of was how high up it was," he said, noting that the instructor told him they would reach an elevation of about 8,000-10,000 feet before they made the jump.

"When you exit the plane, it's not really a jump - you're free falling," Gehrke said, adding that they would reach a velocity of between 100-120 miles per hour before the instructor pulled the secondary parachute that would stabilize their position. A short time later, the main chute was opened, and they floated safely to the ground.

"After the main chute opens, you slow down quite a bit, and you can hear each other talk," Gehrke said, adding, "They also had a backup chute on hand in case the main one didn't open."

Before he and Lips made the jump, Gehrke said, Maki went out on the wing of the plane to record their exit, then jumped off first to make sure he captured everything, in both photo and video.

"He really gets in close," Gehrke said of Maki, adding that the photographer/videographer also kept free-falling a bit longer than they did, to ensure that he reached the ground first and could record their landing.

"They really do everything they can to make sure you have a great experience," he added.

Gehrke said that Lips also did his part by putting in plenty of exciting "twists and turns" during the jump, and hitting the landing target pretty closely, all the while making sure Gehrke had both legs lifted up at an angle so he could land them both on the ground cleanly.

"He did a great job," Gehrke said. "They all did - they made such a great team. It was a wonderful experience. They're really pros at what they do."

Skydive Fargo is not a commercial parachuting company, however; Nielsen said that while all of the instructors who do the tandem skydives are well trained and certified, the group is actually a nonprofit club of skydiving enthusiasts that has been operating out of the West Fargo Airport since 1967. (For more information, please visit the website at www.skydivefargo.com).

"What I want people to know is that skydiving can happen in a very safe way," said Nielsen. "It is a sport with risks, and we want everyone to realize that, but at the same time we take really good care of our people - our students, our jumpers and our aircraft. We're not professional jumpers, we all have regular jobs... skydiving is something we do for fun and it's extraordinarily rewarding."

Nielsen said that the staff at the Detroit Lakes-Becker County Airport and its governing body, the Airport Commission, have gone out of their way to make sure that Skydive Fargo is well taken care of during their annual visits to the Northwest Water Carnival, which usually happen over a three-day period on the first weekend of the event.

"They provide us with exceptional facilities and are very cooperative with us," he added.

Besides Gehrke, there were 79 first-time jumpers who took part in the tandem skydiving at this year's water carnival, Nielsen said. A total of 190 jumpers participated.