PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Amber Gandolfo (center) is brought down safely by Manorville firefighters after she and her skydiving instructor (right) became trapped in a tree.
While Amber Gandolfo and her tandem skydiving instructor floated back down to Earth hundreds of feet above the ground Tuesday afternoon, the pair started making small talk. Ms. Gandolfo, a first-time skydiver, told her instructor she would definitely jump again.
Then, she said, the wind picked up.
“We were talking and having conversation up there, and all of a sudden he got quiet and I realized we weren’t where we were supposed to be,” Ms. Gandolfo said. “He did his best to get us over grassy areas … [but] every time we got to a good area, the wind pushed us somewhere else.”
The pair were rescued from a tree in Calverton Tuesday evening after they were blown off course by sudden gusting winds and became entangled in the tree’s branches dozens of feet off the ground.
Ms. Gandolfo, a 25-year-old Massapequa Park native, said she decided to go skydiving with Skydive Long Island to join her boyfriend, who jumps “a few times in the summer.”
[Another jumper recounts his story of being blown off course]
She was nervous in the plane during the trip up, but said the freefall was “exhilarating.”
“You feel like you’re being pushed upwards, like you’re fighting the air,” she said.
Then, after the two deployed their parachutes, the wind blew them into the tree.
“We hit the tree going 20-30 miles an hour and I’m lucky enough to not have any broken bones,” she said. “I am lucky.”
Ms. Gandolfo only suffered minor scratches from the collision.
Four other tandem teams were also blown off course by the sudden storm, said Skydive Long Island owner Ray Maynard. Mr. Maynard said he noticed the wind suddenly pick up, but was too late to stop the teams from jumping.
Manorville firefighters arrived on the scene about 6:30 p.m. and worked to cut away branches to free the pair.
“The scariest part was after the impact with the tree, and you don’t know if you’re going to fall,” Ms. Gandolfo said. “The tree wasn’t very sturdy, we were definitely blowing in the wind.” She said the pair tried to keep things lighthearted, and were joking around to keep calm.
The two were smiling as they were lowered back to safety, but when Ms. Gandolfo made it back to the ground, she became emotional and cried.
“It was a wave of relief,” she said. “It wasn’t an ideal landing, but I made it back to the ground in one piece,”
Her mother, Susan, said she heard about what happened when Amber called her from a cell phone.
“She’s all right and that’s what’s important,” Susan Gandolfo said.
Amber thanked the Skydive Long Island team, who she said did a great job of teaching her the steps before the jump and preventing the crash landing from being worse.
It may be a while down the road, but she even thinks she may skydive again.
“I think people expect me to say no, but I’m not opposed to it,” she said. “I might. I don’t know, maybe I’m crazy. I’m not to shaken up by the experience.”