There were naturally some nerves. Of course there would be when tandem jumping off a cliff. But for Shrewsbury’s Hans Donner, the adrenaline-inducing activity is nothing new. He’s been there, done it and got the T-shirt when it comes to leaping out of planes or jumping from a great height.
It’s like chalk and cheese as we enjoy an amiable chat on the phone.
I mean, you do well to get me on a children’s ride at a theme park, if it’s a certain height off the ground.
So, I have to admit to being slightly in awe of a daredevil like Hans, who has more than 3,000 jumps on his CV – skydiving for 26 years and BASE jumping for the past ten.
BASE stands for ‘Bridges, antennas, spans (bridges), and Earth’ and jumpers ‘exit’ from these locations.
He’s just had time to reflect on an incredible 2022 when he took part in what has been claimed to be the UK’s first-ever tandem base jump.
Hans, who hails from Wilcott, was part of the Mountain Man Base Team, who performed a pioneering tandem base jump at Beer Head in Devon, the site of the original solo UK jumps back in 1982.
Hans led a colleague in successfully jumping from the 280ft chalk cliff on the Jurassic Coast.
Hans and fellow team members had worked on the project for two years to prepare, plan, design and source equipment, and run trials with weighted bags off UK cliffs before finally performing the first live jump, having informed coastguards to ensure they were aware.
“It took a lot of planning,” says Hans. “We scouted around the country to see where we could do it.
“With my background, as part of British skydiving and as a tandem instructor, combined with my base jumping experience, businesses were more than happy to make the equipment we needed.
“We put a training programme together, making sure we were doing the right sort of jumping and working on standing operating procedures and the right safety protocols.
“When the equipment arrived, we used loaded bags and did bag jumps to make sure we were happy with everything. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes jumps with weighted bags.
“We even used a teddy bear – a cuddly toy dog with lots of weight in it – which was quite fun to do. We used that for practice up in the Lake District, off this massive mountain and we got some funny looks from walkers!
“When all the practice came together, we selected the site. It just so happened this part of Devon had hosted the UK’s first-ever individual BASE jump from an ‘Earth exit’.
“A combination of things all came together, which had taken years of planning and the weather played ball as well which was really good.”
The jump proved a huge success and one which Hans is hugely proud of.
“It’s about the landing and how you fly your canopy,” he reflects. “This site was soft because it was a shale beach so if there was going to be an awkward landing, you’d have a cushion.
“Going into the jump, I had total confidence in the team itself. I had practised a few times with the person at my front and they had been on a tandem before so knew what to expect from the landing as well.
“It was a special moment. It felt really natural and really good.
“There are nerves, of course, because it’s base jumping, and they say it doesn’t matter how many times you have done it before, you will always be nervous at the exit point.
“But we had drilled it so many times. I remember landing and making sure my colleague was safe.
“Once he was, you see the energy at the bottom, we had accomplished something we had been planning for years. It was that feeling of relief and there were quite a few drinks in a Devon pub that night, it was so good. I was so proud of the team.”
Hans, 42, is from a family with an airborne forces heritage and has become an accomplished parachutist, having jumped locally at Shropshire airfields, and throughout the UK.
Dad Paul was in the 9th Squadron Royal Engineers so had a military background but, in many ways, it’s incredible to think Hans wasn’t put off by the thought of jumping out of a plane or BASE jumping after reflecting on a devastating incident before he was born.
“My mum, Jeanette, had a crazy background,” he recalls. “She used to jump with the military and she was heading towards jumping with the Red Devils.
“Unfortunately, in 1973, she had a double malfunction with both parachutes. She fell 5,000ft onto a concrete helipad and impacted feet first.
“Incredibly, she survived after being rushed to hospital. She spent six months in a full body cast and, amazingly, after that, she continued jumping.
“The doctors didn’t expect her to walk again which you’d expect after a fall like that. She made a really good recovery.
“I’d always been brought up around parachuting and skydiving – it was her love – and she inspired me to get into jumping, even after her accident.
“It was never pushed upon me but it always intrigued me and, when it came to my 16th birthday, I did my first at Skydive Tilstock. My skydiving went on from there.”
From 2005, Hans served with the 2nd Light Infantry, based in Edinburgh, which was amalgamated into the Third Battalion The Rifles, doing tours of Iraq.
He continued skydiving through the military and took all his ratings up to examiner.
He left in 2012 but returned to teach skydiving with the military.
Now, though, he is focusing on the BASE team.
“There was a natural progression and I’d been interested in BASE jumping with more of a risk involved, so transitioned to it and really enjoyed it,” he says.
“BASE jumping has been around for some time with limited people doing it.
“Tandem base has been going for a while as well now but it’s low-key and not many people doing it. There’s a few people in the United States and one or two people around Europe.
“It’s something, as a team, we had always talked about, so I’m loving being involved in it.
“My passion is taking new students and teaching people about it. With BASE jumping, there’s that buzz. It’s about being with your friends and at amazing locations where people wouldn’t imagine going to.
“There’s the element of adventure. It’s not for everyone. Some people like to play golf but I enjoy walking up to something and jumping off. People think it’s crazy, but if you look at all the elements of it, there’s lots of risk assessments and the safety elements are at the forefront. None of us want to hurt ourselves or put ourselves in danger.
“The guys are all very safety conscious and meticulous with planning, be it the weather, equipment or location.”
And, despite all of his experience and the number of times he’s leapt from a plane or off a solid object, Hans never tires of his passion.
“People talk about numbers but for me it’s all about every experience,” he says. “It’s all about living for those experiences and special moments