College Station (Texas), June 14 (Reuters): Former US President George Bush (seen at the bottom of Reuters picture above) yesterday celebrated his 80th birthday by donning a black and yellow jump suit and skydiving strapped to a US army paratrooper.
An airborne Bush waved to the thousands who had gathered for the event as he neared touchdown. He then slid to a landing across the hot Texas grass near the George Bush presidential library. Bush had planned to jump solo, as on his 75th birthday, but tricky winds and low clouds prompted him to jump in tandem.
“This was a day of joy and wonder for the Bush family, and certainly for the old guy,” the octogenarian former President said.
He was flanked on the ground by members of the US army’s Golden Knights parachute team, who took the jump with him. Bush dropped at about 200 kph after jumping from about 3,960 metres before his chute was opened.
Bush said he wanted to send a message to senior citizens to get out and be active. He was presented with a badge after the event saying that he had completed five jumps, enough to qualify for US army basic paratroop status.
The first time Bush jumped out of an airplane was when he was a US aviator shot down over the Pacific during World War II, some 60 years ago.
The senior Bush was in Texas for two days of festivities and fanfare to celebrate his 80th birthday.
On Saturday, Bush was at the baseball park in Houston with his son, President George W. Bush and former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. The Bush faithful, who paid at least $200 each and some as much as $1 million to take part in the charity event, then moved by train about 160 km west to the Texas A&M University campus at College Station to watch Bush parachute.
The organisers of the event did not want to delay the Bush birthday celebration, though it started hours after the funeral for Reagan, for whom Bush served as Vice-President.
“Given the charitable nature of these events, we believe President Reagan would be the first to say ‘the show must go on’,” said spokesperson Jim McGrath.
The money from the two-day birthday bash was being used to benefit three charities — the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation, the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and the Points of Light Foundation.