Fast rope: Reach out, hold on and slide
CLARK AIR FIELD, Philippines — It’s the final second that gets you, before reaching out to a rope dangling 70 feet above a hard, dirt field.
“You just have to drop your body out before your feet connect,” said Marine Sgt. Jorge Maleno, one of about 40 U.S. and Philippine servicemembers who rappelled from a hovering CH-46 helicopter during Balikatan 2003 in the Philippines.
Marines usually practice rappelling from fixed objects, Maleno said: “You get used to doing it off the tower.”
The last second before jumping from the helo is pretty intense, he said. “I don’t look down at all.”
Fast-roping from a helicopter allows Marines to land where a helicopter can’t: on a mountain, a forest or a rooftop, said Staff Sgt. Samuel Turner of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines regiment.
“The most preferred way, is to land and let everyone out,” he said. Fast-roping allows “quick entry into a landing zone or a forest tree line.”
Turner’s battalion, from Twentynine Palms, Calif., is temporarily stationed on Okinawa and joined Balikatan from there.
The rappellers at Clark Air Field, a former U.S. air base, dropped 70 feet during their exercise. But the rope extends to 90 feet, Turner said. Others are 120 and 150 feet long.
Philippine para-jumpers and special forces joined the U.S. Marines for the jump, Turner said.
The key, many rappellers say, is not to hold on too tight or the thick, green rope will burn your hands, even through gloves.
After stepping from a dark aircraft into bright sunlight and deafening sound from the props, you quickly realize there’s nothing holding you to the rope but your hands and feet. To get there, you reach out, hold on until your feet hit the rope and slide down fast. It takes about 3-4 seconds to drop 70 feet. Most of the time, you land OK.
“After a few times, you get used to landing on your feet,” said Lance Cpl. Terry J. Kirsch.
Kirsch said fast-roping is fun most of the time. Waiting on the ground is the toughest part.
“We call this elevator ops,” he said — the helo repeatedly goes up with jumpers and down for more.
He said night-jumping is troublesome. “You can’t tell if the rope’s on the ground or not.”