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Mexican Base

by Nick Di Giovanni

By Nick Di Giovanni

In 1986, when my day job is working on airplanes, my boss and I flew to Baja to repair the propeller on a customer’s aircraft. This customer is a wind surfer and he and a friend often flew his Cessna-206 down there landing on the beach in the middle of no-where to enjoy a week of solitude and wind surfing. The usual practice is to fly low over the beach, drop a beer bottle out the window, and if it stuck in the sand, it was deemed hard enough to land on.

This time they landed alright initially, but then found some soft sand where the nose wheel dug in, and they bent the prop. They are in an area on the Pacific side of Baja where usually there isn’t much for 300 miles in either direction.

Word finally reached us back in California and we loaded a new prop, all the tools we’d need, and plenty of food and water into my boss’s twin Aero Commander and took off. Our problem would be finding the closest runway for the Commander and then finding a boat to get us to where they are stuck. Prior to that, and if necessary, as the pair is running short on food and water, I was prepared to jump into their position carrying some supplies and a few tools to begin the repair process. They specifically requested beer if I could manage it.

We stopped at Brown Field on the U.S.- Mexican border to check-out of the country, as is required with U.S. Customs. This is usually an easy process but while our aircraft had fresh engines, a killer panel with all the latest gadgets, and is very mechanically sound, the outside looked rough. In fact, if casting a drug running plane for a movie, this was it.

We are on the ground for 4 hours as we unloaded the entire aircraft for inspection, then suffered the indignity of waiting for the drug sniffing dogs after the somewhat frustrated agents failed to find anything. Small beads of sweat started forming on my brow as I looked at my gear bag laying on the ground. I struggled to recall, when was the last time I gave that a good cleaning out . . .

As you don’t want to fly (or drive) in Baja at night, we pleaded our case, and are finally allowed to proceed, but now there’s no way to make the almost 700 miles so we stop in Guerrero Negro, about a quarter of the way down, where we spend the night. There is a small village here with a cantina, a bank, and a police station. There’s also something else you couldn’t miss. A 250-foot free standing steel tower right in the middle of town. As we entered the cantina, my boss looked at me and said, “Don’t even think about it.”

As my eyes adjusted to the dark interior of the bar we notice what’s probably the entire police force and several soldiers seated in a corner, they are drinking, and there are automatic weapons leaning on the wall. My boss spoke Spanish but mine isn’t very good. Whatever it takes to learn another language I don’t have, but in answer to the fellow behind the bar I managed, “Hola señor, dos cerveza por favor.”

We’d planned on sleeping in the plane, but it is early yet, and after a few cold ones I went outside for another look-see at that tower. It sat fronting the wide dirt road, there’s no wind, I had a large canopy stuffed in my Racer in anticipation of jumping all that gear later, it’s an old tower, there’s nothing on it and it doesn’t appear to be plugged in anywhere. Why not, I thought, it’s climbable and landable. All I had to do now is convince my boss to come back with me at three in morning and climb up and down the tower after he held my deployment bag.

“Me dispensa señor, qué usted hace aquí?” It’s one of the soldier’s and I think he’s asking what I’m doing there. I had just enough beer to say, “Soy un paracaidista y yo pienso en saltar de esta torre.” He looked up the tower and back at me and he smiled. I found myself at their table with another beer and telling them I’d served in the United States Marine Corps. As luck would have it, it turned out these aren’t soldiers at all, they are Mexican Marines. I was in.

Almost sheepishly, and certainly without boast, which is common to Mexican people, two of them said they had made a few jumps, a mix of sport and military static line jumps. They had never heard of, or even contemplated BASE jumping. I left my boss to explain the finer points as I ran, as fast as I could, back to the plane to get my rig.

We cleared away the tables and chairs and I un-packed for skydiving and re-packed for BASE with the Marines helping and asking all kinds of questions. I didn’t drink enough beer not to jump, but I did drink enough beer not to climb, so I planned for dawn.

We went back to drinking and laughing and I asked permission to look at their weapons and Ricky, he was the highest ranking, unloaded one of the rifles, and handed it to me. It’s a Casa from Argentina, fully automatic and it carried a 30 round magazine full of large caliber ball ammunition. It is a tad heavy but it would stop a truck. Of course I asked, but Ricky said sorry as they had to account for all the rounds and, no, we couldn’t go out back and burn off a clip.

A few minutes later a policeman appeared and stood a few feet away from our table until we stopped talking. He then silently came closer and laid a medium sized box on the table. It’s full of just the ammo we needed. So we all took turns, even the policeman, out back, and I must say it was a blast.

Word of the jump had gotten around the small town and a good audience is in place the next morning when with Ricky holding my deployment bag I swooped onto the dirt road nicely enough to cause cheering like I’d never experienced in my BASE career.

Viva Mexico!

Submitted by Nick Di Giovanni on 2007-06-19 | Last Modified on 2007-06-28

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What a great story! Love all the anecdotes man, keep 'em coming.
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love this story!

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