Being in your 80s usually means slowing down and avoiding unnecessary risks.
But not for Placerville resident Eileen Samboceti, who decided to take up skydiving at the age of 81.
That decision led to a memorable experience a year ago that had all the elements of an action movie, including heart-stopping drama and a happy ending.
A busy longtime resident, Eileen and her husband Lou ran Hangtown Hardware for 25 years while raising three children. Once they retired she went to work for Snowline Hospice for 23 years, first as a volunteer and now as a part-time employee.
An active woman with an adventurous side, Samboceti was invited to go skydiving several years ago when her daughter and other family members went together. “But I got the flu so I couldn’t go. But I was pining to do it,” she said.
Finally in May of last year she got a second chance when a good friend suggested they go. She said yes and invited along her granddaughter, Alissa Withrow, and her son’s girlfriend, Karen Boyer. Also jumping with them was a woman by the name of Laverne Everett, who was 80 at the time and whose sister was a friend of Eileen’s.
“It was just before my 82nd birthday so it was a gift to myself,” said Samboceti.
Her husband Lou was not in favor of the jump. “He was afraid I wouldn’t be around to cook his dinner,” she laughed.
But after discussing it, Eileen prevailed and on May 14, 2011 a group of friends and family members drove to the Parachute Center in Lodi for a tandem jump. They were given some instructions, suited up in harnesses and loaded on the plane. Aboard were 10 jumpers, their tandem partners, and 10 photographers to videotape the jumpers as they fell.
Once they were at the right altitude, Everett was supposed to jump first. However Samboceti could see that she was having trouble because instead of folding her arms across her chest as instructed, she was holding on to the edge of the door.
“She had bad arthritis and you had to crouch down and step over a ledge to get out of the plane,” said Samboceti. “She had trouble getting out because of her arthritis and when she jumped, with a little nudge from her partner, she must have slipped out of her harness. People watching her might have thought that she really didn’t want to jump but it wasn’t that. It was that she couldn’t get her leg over the door ledge.”
Samboceti jumped next but she wasn’t aware there was any problem even though she could see that her friend’s shirt was up over her head as she fell.
“When Laverne jumped her clothes flew up in her face and she couldn’t see what was happening,” said Samboceti. “She thought what was happening was normal and wasn’t afraid even though she was hanging on to her partner and he was hanging on to her.”
It wasn’t until Samboceti was on the ground that she learned that the harness strap had slipped off Everett’s shoulder and the only thing keeping her from falling was her partner hanging on to her for dear life.
Fortunately, both were able to land safely on the grass and Everett only ended up with a few bruises and a scraped knee. She didn’t even realize what had happened or how close she came to disaster until she saw the videotape of her dive.
“We were all fine,” said Samboceti. “But it hit me after I landed. There was an adrenaline rush and I got sick to my stomach. It was unexpected because I was pretty calm and didn’t have any butterflies or anything. Then we all went out to lunch afterwards.”
Samboceti said the videotape of the dive has since gone viral on the Internet and resulted in Everett being interviewed on the Today Show last month. “She’s a feisty little gal and says she wants to try car racing next,” laughed Samboceti.
The incident also drew the attention of the FAA which is investigating what happened and the safety record of the skydiving company.
In the meantime, Samboceti says her skydiving days are over. She’s back to working part-time at Snowline Hospice and planning other adventures.
“I’m so glad I did it,” she said. “But it’s something you do just once. Now I would like to go up in a hot air balloon.”
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or [email protected] Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.