I am a stuntman. Last summer, I was working on the TV
movie "Charlie's Balloon", doubling as a gangster who,
literally, takes a long drive off a short pier.
Sitting in the car waiting for the cameras to roll, I
mentally went over my safety checklist. This pier was 15
to 20 feet above the water, higher than is safe. You
want the car to land flat, so you have more time to get
out before it sinks.
I had reinforced the car's windshield with heavy Lexan,
an industrial-strength plastic. Normal windshields are
made of safety glass – with an impact at 40 mph, they
will shatter. We left the electrically powered windows
Inside the car, we had installed a five-point seatbelt,
the kind race-car drivers wear. The belts go over the
shoulders, across the waist, and between your legs. Next
to me in the car, an Aqualung was bolted – with an
extra tank of air, enough for one hour underwater.
Besides the usual film crew, two safety divers were
hidden beneath the pier in case of an emergency – for
example, if I lost consciousness.
The cameras started rolling. The director gave us the
signal. I stepped on the gas. We picked up speed and
then we were in the air, flying between sky and sea.
However, immediately, the front end dipped downward. We
hit the water at an angle. The impact was intense. The
windshield exploded. Saltwater rushed in through the
jagged, gaping hole in the windshield. The force of the
water pinned me back. Within moments, we were swallowed
by the pitch-blackness of the muddy water.
I fumbled for the catch that would release my seatbelt
but it stuck. I began to panic. The car was turning
over. I couldn't tell which way was up. Down I went,
rapidly; through 40 feet of water. I grabbed fro the
Aqualung, gasping for air.
The car landed upside-down and proceeded to sink into
four feet of mud and slime. I was buried upside-down in
mud 40 feet underwater ! Mud clogged my eyes and nose. I
couldn't see. I couldn't free myself from the seatbelt.
Blood was rushing to my head. I was panicking, telling
myself that I did not want to die, when out of nowhere,
came the order, "Relax, stupid" – two words spoken in a
calm, friendly, commanding voice. who spoke them ? Could
it be God ? But does God call people stupid ? Yet the
friendliness of the words, the good-natured jibe, almost
made me laugh.
That was exactly what was needed to cut through my
terror. the voice was completely right. I had been
stupid. There was no reason to panic. I had forgotten: I
had air and I was conscious. I had everything I needed
to get out o the situation.
I relaxed. The mud eventually settled. Slowly, gingerly,
I found the twisted buckle to my seatbelt. I undid it.
while still upside-down, I located the crushed roof and
felt around for the open rear window. I wriggled out of
it and swam to the surface. Air has never tasted sweeter
than it did that day off the San Pedro pier.