There are lots of ways to celebrate a ninetieth birthday. Most probably involve happy family members and lots of cake. But for Bill Wharton, MD, a retired emergency medicine physician and World War II veteran, that wasn’t enough. In a life that surely didn’t lack for excitement, he decided there was still time for some more. The Gibsonia, Pennsylvania, resident told a local television station that he’d been thinking about jumping out of a plane for some time, but had been waiting for a special occasion. “I turned 90 and thought, heck, that’s as good a reason as any,” he said. “The bucket is empty now.”
Dr. Wharton's ninetieth birthday was in June, and the following month he traveled to Minnesota, where his son lives, to do the jump. Dr. Wharton, his daughter-in-law Kathy, and two grandchildren went up in the plane together. When they reached an altitude of 14,000 feet, Dr. Wharton was the first one to take the plunge, followed by the other three. “We did a free fall for a full minute, which put us close to 6,000 feet when we popped the chute,” he told Pennsylvania's TribLive media
. “I believe we hit speeds of 120 miles per hour terminal velocity. I saw the skyline of Minneapolis. . . it was a picture perfect day.”
In 2014 former President George Bush (Senior) celebrated his ninetieth birthday the same way, with a skydive in Maine. But Dr. Wharton said he’d been thinking about doing the jump for a lot longer than that. “I trained at Fort Benning (Georgia) and the paratroopers’ school is there,” he explained.
Although it was his first jump, Dr. Wharton said he felt no fear. “The jump master was so calm and reassuring.”
Wasn’t he worried about the landing, which could be rough on 90-year-old bones? “They told me to raise my legs on landing, and the jump master took the impact. It was really a ‘walk-in’ landing, very soft. I would do it again.”
In fact, falling through the sky was the easiest part, said the intrepid doctor. “The hardest part of the whole thing was getting into the plane. I had trouble getting up the steps.” And after the landing? “I think it’s ironic that I jumped 14,000 feet and the first thing I asked for was my cane,” he said, explaining that it was a long walk back to the skydiving operations office.
A widower since 1997, Dr. Wharton said his late wife would just have rolled her eyes at his latest adventure. Some of his friends had the same reaction. “It was thrilling and an experience I’ll never forget,” he said, “but some of my friends are telling me I’m crazy. I told them that senility takes all forms!” Not surprisingly Dr. Wharton has become a celebrity at the retirement community where he now lives.