The sky’s the limit for Dartmoor daredevil Maureen

A thrill-seeking pensioner who lost her husband to cancer has braved an adrenaline-fuelled skydive to raise money for charity. Maureen Shepheard, a former nurse from Okehampton, took to the skies last weekend in a stereotype-busting freefall that she had planned to complete in her 80th year.

Thanks to the generosity of friends, family and the public, Maureen has raised a sky-high running total of almost £2,000 for Hospiscare. Donations are still rolling in. The charity means a lot to Maureen as Hospiscare assisted her late husband when he became unwell.

COVID-19 had put a hold on Maureen’s plans, having originally arranged the skydive to go ahead in April. The lockdown restrictions forced Maureen to reschedule to September. Coincidentally, the rescheduled date for the jump was exactly four years to the day that her late husband, Geoff, passed away.

On arrival at the airfield, a fearless and seemingly unfazed Maureen was keen to ‘get moving’ as soon as she stepped out of the car. After a safety briefing to get checked-in by staff at the airfield, Maureen sat with her family in a public viewing area. Skydivers, both experienced and amateur jumpers alike, boarded their planes and filled the horizon with colourful parachutes slowly descending to the ground soon after.

On the day of the jump, it was clear blue skies all round. The perfect weather offered impeccable visibility. Skydive instructors claimed that views could be seen from Cornwall to Wales from the jump altitude on such a clear day. “I’m excited!” announced Maureen, “but nervous,” she added.

Her plane, which took off from Dunkeswell Airfield near Honiton, made the climb to 15,000 feet. Maureen was set to do a tandem jump that would see her in freefall for around 60 seconds. Maureen’s accompanying family seemed used to her daredevil antics. “You can’t stop her,” said sister Pauline. “Once she gets an idea in her head, you know she’s doing it. We’re not even shocked any more, but we’re really proud of her.” Maureen’s family said she was already making plans for her next challenge. “A wing-walk when she gets to 90” – is firmly on the cards.

After getting ‘kitted up’, Maureen held a photo of her late husband, which she showed to her watching family. She held it close to her, and placed it under her jumping gear so that his photo would be with her on her descent. “That’s him,” said Maureen, “that’s Geoff,” as she placed the photo back under her hefty jumping gear.

As a tractor and trailer ferried the last group of elated skydivers back to their families (folded parachutes in hand) the next group prepared to board the plane. Soon after the deafeningly loud aircraft re-fuelled, the engines fired up and Maureen’s group were escorted to board the plane. No seats, doors or in-flight-meals however. Guests were helped aboard the side of the fuselage with the help of a set of rolling metal steps. The plane then crawled to the start of the runway, where it roared away for take-off.

It took the plane 12 minutes to get to the jumping altitude of 15,000 feet. By the time it was high enough, Maureen’s plane appeared as a mere white speck in the sky, barely visible on the ground to her watching family. “Keep your eyes on it, or you’ll lose sight,” announced staff at the airfield. Maureen’s waiting family had been transported to the far side of the field, just next to the landing zone. “There!” shouted Pauline as the first parachute opened. Soon after a number of other parachutes could be seen, gliding silently towards the ground.

Maureen’s family were handed a print-out that identified the colour and pattern of her parachute. After some brief disagreements between family members, staff pointed out Maureen’s actual parachute descending to the ground. As she and her tandem jumper turned on their final descent, Maureen was clearly recognisable as she cruised directly over waiting spectators, to the joy of her waiting family. She finally touched the ground with a soft landing.

After springing up onto her feet, Maureen was clearly ecstatic as her family hurried to congratulate her. “That was over pretty quickly,” quipped Maureen. “Lots and lots of fun though… I can’t believe it’s all over, it’s been a year since we started talking about it and now it’s all over so quickly!” As the jumpers headed back to the changing rooms, Maureen announced that she was going to ‘get her kit off’ – an announcement that didn’t go unnoticed by unsuspecting passers-by who laughed hearing it from a pensioner.

Maureen was visibly proud to have skydived in memory of her late husband and was quite literally falling for him. Geoff and Maureen moved to the West Country having met as part of a walking group in 1977. Maureen moved to Devon when her husband retired. In 1995 they settled in Truro, where they searched for a bed and breakfast business to run, an ambition of theirs for some time. Eventually they found and ran a successful B&B in St Austell called The Gables. For years they welcomed tourists who came to stay. That was before moving to Okehampton. The couple enjoyed the beautiful setting, on the edge of Dartmoor, for many years.

Maureen hoped that Geoff was watching her at the airfield. As they waited, a family member spotted an eye-catching tail number painted on the fuselage of a small plane. Shortly before Maureen’s ascent, that very plane took off in full view of the family… The tail number was, ‘G-0FRY’, or as Maureen saw it, ‘Geoffrey’.

If you would like to donate to Maureen’s fundraiser, please visit:
https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/maureenshepheard

Laura White

Author: Laura White

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