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90-year-old ex-US president makes parachute jump

June 12, 2014

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine (AP) — Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush celebrated his 90th birthday Thursday by making a tandem parachute jump near his summer home in Maine, fulfilling a promise made five years ago despite having lost the use of his legs.

The 41st president jumped out of a helicopter at 6,000 feet (1,830 meters) while harnessed to a retired member of the Army’s parachute team. He can no longer use his legs because of a form of parkinsonism.

Bush could be seen floating to the ground using a red, white and blue parachute. Witnesses said he was greeted with a hug and a kiss from his wife, Barbara, and a hug from his son George.

“That’s what he wanted for his 90th birthday, and that’s what he got,” said Mike Elliott, who also guided Bush to a safe landing on his 85th birthday. “It’s a very good feeling to be involved and be able to turn back time.”

Bush had to overcome the objections of his doctor, his wife and the rest of the family before making the latest jump, Elliott said. Eventually, he won them over.

Bush’s foot got tangled up underneath him during the landing, causing him to tumble forward onto the ground. A spokesman later said the former president was feeling “fine.”

“He had a big smile for the crowd. You could tell he was exhilarated,” said Diana Untermeyer, a family friend.

Hundreds of people gathered on the rocky coast to get a glimpse of the jump.

Thursday marked Bush’s eighth jump. The first time he jumped from an airplane was when his plane was shot down in World War II over the Pacific.

“It’s a wonderful day in Maine — in fact, nice enough for a parachute jump,” he announced on Twitter.

The announcement was kept secret until the last minute, partly to give Bush himself the option of changing his mind.

Spokesman Jim McGrath said Bush likes both a surprise and an adrenaline rush.

“It’s vintage George Bush,” he said. “It’s that passion for life. It’s wanting to set a goal, wanting to achieve it. I’m sure part of it is sending a message to others that even in your retirement years you can still find challenges.”

Bush’s jump was indicative of a trend among people of advanced age, said Lenard Kaye, director of the Maine Center on Aging at the University of Maine. More and more seniors are participating in extreme physical activities, he said.

Such “extreme acts of adventure” are becoming a part of many seniors’ lives but they need to be mindful that their bones are more fragile than when they were younger, he said.

Other birthday festivities included a private dinner with more than 200 relatives and friends. His children, former President George W. Bush and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, will be there, McGrath said.

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