December 15, 2006: A special plane carrying four Indians was hovering over the South Pole in Antarctica. Sheetal Mahajan was preparing for an Accelerated Free Fall para-jump over South Pole. If successful, she would become the first female in the world to have achieved the feat.
Her instructors, Naval Lieutenant Commanders Rajesh and Mahesh Birajdar brief her about the dos and don'ts of the jump. After all, Sheetal had previously made just one jump in her life. It was in the relatively less grueling environs of the North Pole.
After the briefing, Sheetal makes her exit. Her instructors have sandwiched her on either side. Mid-flight they both shake her arms (a sign that means everything is ok and that they were signing off) and part ways on either side.
Sheetal is now on her own. At the right distance from the vast slab of ice, she checks the altimeter and releases her parachute. Everything is fine till now.
The ice is getting closer every second. Seconds before she is about to touch the ice, her instructors give her the all-clear signal.
Something goes wrong at the last moment -- she doesn't know what -- and Sheetal lands on her backside on the ice. "A goofy landing, a world record nonetheless," Sheetal, who is back in Pune after the historic feat, remembers.
The 23-year-old is just like any other college graduate, just wanting to enjoy life and do her own thing. Only, her 'own thing' is jumping out of an aircraft from several thousand feet onto no man's land on the South and North Poles.
Here's the how and why of the wild achievements of a one-of-a-kind adventure sportsperson. Read on, and don't forget to strap that parachute before you continue any further.
Text: Krishna Kumar | Photographs courtesy: Sheetal Mahajan
Image: Sheetal Mahajan