Arecibo, Puerto Rico - Veteran crew dog skydiver Ernie Piliscotte has a glint in his eye.
"If you're not living on the edge, you're taking up space," he says.
I'm at the free-fall fest in Arecibo ( www.xtremedivers.com) to take my third tandem jump. In tow are Tortola resident Mark Downing and Virgin Gorda resident Rekha Salwi, set for their first tandem diving experience.
The sky is alive with parachutes as we approach the drop zone, a small airport that closed a year ago to commercial flights and is now leased by Xtreme Divers, a small skydiving enterprise founded in 2002 by master skydive instructor and certified rigger Jason Gonzalez and his partner, Viviana Aijusus.
The large field outside the makeshift airport is crowded with hundreds of spectators watching 17 multicoloured parachutes of death-defying divers flying in on fast and furious hook turns, some to bump and some to step softly onto the grass below.
The next morning early, a large tent is abuzz with activity as 150 participants register for their morning and afternoon dives. We don special suits to insulate us against the cold air as the sky van, a 17-seat plane with two benches lined with seatbelts, arrives to take us up.
Almost seven hours later, it's finally our turn. Mark, Rekha and I pile into the sky van with our dive instructors. A sense of camaraderie fills the plane. The Arecibo coastline glitters below as we ascend into the vast sky above.
Approaching 9,000 feet, we unbuckle our seatbelts and allow our tandem dive instructors to strap themselves onto our backs. Watching our altimeters as they reach 13,500 feet, we wish one another luck.
I step out out of the open back end of the plane to tumble in a series of forward and backward rolls and flips, and then to glide, arms outstretched. I fly for 60 seconds of incredible, exhilarating, heart-pounding 195-kph speed, plummeting earthward.
My canopy opens and we navigate through a series of loops, circles and turns to a soft and safe landing.
Checking in with my mates, I'm happy to learn that their experiences were as amazing as mine.
Yet the question remains: how safe is skydiving?
Gonzalez, who has made 9,300 dives, and his partner, Aijusus, say it's all about the technology.
If the main chute doesn't open, the reserve will. "A sophisticated mechanism is installed in each reserve chute," explains Aijusus. "It's pre-programmed to open at 2,000 feet, giving the diver enough time to safely land."
Each parachute is inspected by a professional rigger (a diver with over 8,000 jumps), who certifies the reserve chute every 120 days.
"Diving, within strict safety limits for both equipment and protocols, is safer than driving," says Aijusus. "In a car accident, you don't have a getaway car to jump into."
Nevertheless, statistics show that 27 of 36,000 divers died in 2004, a chilling number when you consider that's almost 1 in 1,300.
Most deaths result from divers leaving their reserve chutes at home or not braking when they land, in search of more speed. One-third of all deaths are the result of fancy "left hook turn" landings.
Participation in this year's event was twice last year's, so more and more people are clearly excited about taking the plunge.