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Fearless Retiree Celebrates Her 80th Birthday In Style—By Skydiving From 10,000 Feet

Ann skydiving from 10,000ft to celebrate her 80th birthday (Olly Denham/Cornish Parachute Club)

A fearless 80 year old celebrated her birthday by skydiving at 10,000ft, just months after an earlier attempt resulted in her making an emergency jump following a mayday call.

Known for marking landmark birthdays with big adventures, Ann Maskell, travelled solo to Australia and took a hot air balloon ride on her 55th, went to Cuba on her 75th and was determined that her 80th in November 2019 would be unforgettable.

But the retired restaurateur, had not bargained for quite the degree of excitement in store when she set off from nearby Perranporth only for the plane to start losing power at 4,000ft.

“I heard the pilot shouting, 'Mayday, mayday,' then my instructor tapped me on the shoulder and explained that the plane was losing power and, to conserve fuel, so it could be safely landed, we would need to evacuate," she said.

“It was losing height, so we had to jump out at 4,000ft instead of 10,000ft. It all happened so quickly that there wasn't much time to think about what was going on. I didn't feel frightened or worried, I was just excited!"

Ann in Nepal, 2013 (PA Real Life/Collect)

“My tandem instructor was really caring and looked after me the whole time," she continued.

“We ended up landing in a random field, not the one we'd planned, but I was on such a high afterwards, so I was still really glad I did it."

Exhilarated, rather than scared, Ann could not wait to complete the full dive from 10,000ft, but the site had closed for winter and was not scheduled to re-open until March 2020.

Ann in South Africa, 2010 (PA Real Life/Collect)

When summer arrived and restrictions eased, Ann rescheduled her adventure for August 23, raising $1,290 for Cornwall's Merlin MS Centre in the process.

“It was the experience of a lifetime and I will never forget it," she said.

The skydive is just the latest thrill to enrich Ann's life story, which began when she was born in Malaysia in 1939.

Ann's husband, Peter (PA Real Life/Collect)

The family eventually moved to Australia when Ann was in her early 20s, where they settled on the Gold Coast, in Queensland.

It was there in 1964 that she met and fell in love with her husband Peter.

“We always laughed that he walked away without a deal, but with me in his arms," she said.

“It was love at first sight. He was 33 years older and it never made a day's difference. Everyone was quite happy for us. I'd waited 24 years to find him and then we waited another 25 years to get married! It was frowned upon not to be married back then, but we never thought it necessary."

Ann exploring Machu Picchu, Peru, in 2007 (PA Real Life/Collect)

Following a two-month vacation in Europe, the pair decided to return to Blighty the following year.

Moving to Peter's home county of Cornwall, they opened a restaurant near Bude and worked tirelessly for the best part of two decades.

“Because we were working so hard we didn't have the time or money to go on adventures," Ann said.

Ann exploring Machu Picchu, Peru, in 2007 (PA Real Life/Collect)

“Running a restaurant means sacrificing nearly all your free time. It's late nights, seven nights a week – there was no time for adventures," she said.

“But we loved every second of it. It was our world."

Quitting the restaurant in the early 1990s, after Peter became too tired to keep running the business, Ann retrained as a care assistant.

Ann celebrating her 65th birthday with a hot air balloon ride in Alice Springs, Australia, 1994 (PA Real Life/Collect)

Without a business to run, Ann began adjusting to a new pace of life.

“Working at the care home, I suddenly found myself with weekends and paid holiday to use," she said.

“I started visiting friends and taking trips abroad to the places like Tenerife."

But her 55th birthday in November, 1994, is what really whetted her appetite for adventure. She celebrated by booking a two-week trip to see her brother, Jim, and sister-in-law, Margot, back on the Australian Gold Coast.

“Peter insisted that I plan a big trip for my 55th," Ann recalled. “I was still working and didn't like to miss too much time. But we agreed two weeks should be enough."

Ann visiting the Grand Canyon, Nevada, 2003 (PA Real Life/Collect)

“When I got there, Jim was so busy with work, I decided to go off on an adventure on my own," she said.

“I'd seen a leaflet for a hot air balloon ride over Alice Springs, in the Northern Territories and decided to give it a whirl. I told them both and Margot decided to join me."

Ann is fundraising for The Merlin MS Charity (PA Real Life/Collect)

Setting off at the crack of dawn, driving a 4×4 across the Australian bush.

“We only did half an hour in the air, but it was amazing," she said.

“We were in the middle of nowhere, bush bashing our way to the take off point. Up in the air you couldn't see anything apart from beautiful wildlife."

Ann's first skydive attempt, November last year (PA Real Life/Collect)

“The scariest thing was landing. I remember the basket came terribly close to a telegraph pole, which was the most frightening part of the whole day," she said.

“We landed and had a champagne breakfast – helping pack up the gigantic balloon first. It was such an exciting way to spend my birthday."

Sadly, just months after returning home from the trip, Ann lost her beloved husband in 1995.

“He hadn't been in good health for a long time and eventually we lost him to heart failure," she said. “But you can never be fully prepared to lose someone."

Ann's first skydive attempt, November 2019 (PA Real Life/Collect)

“You can know they're going to die tomorrow and it wouldn't help. It's still a shock," she continued.

Adjusting to life as a widow, Ann began looking for her next big adventure. Solo backpacking in Nepal in 2003, or trekking across New Zealand in 2009, both with travel adventure groups.

And marking milestone birthdays in style has now become something of a tradition.

Ann skydiving from 10,000ft to celebrate her 80th birthday (Olly Denham/Cornish Parachute Club)

“For my 75th birthday, a dear friend and I put two dozen destinations in a hat and the first one we pulled out – Cuba – was where we headed to," she said.

“We went with an adventure company for over 60s and started in Havana, before exploring all around. The way they live there was like being in a time warp – completely different to the English way of life."

Ann preparing to make the jump on August 23 (Olly Denham/Cornish Parachute Club)

“Each day, a Cuban girl would tell us about her country's history. It was quite remarkable," she continued.

“It was also one of the cleanest countries I have ever visited."

Despite being known by fellow residents at her retirement community for her thrill-seeking nature, she says news of her 80th birthday skydive left them “gobsmacked."

“Some thought it was far too much for a woman my age, so, for a second, I thought, 'You know what, I'll do it quietly on my own,'" she said.

“But I realized that was selfish. If was going to do a skydive, I wanted to raise some money for charity. I know several people who have been touched by multiple sclerosis, so I decided to raise money for the Merlin MS Centre."

Ann skydiving from 10,000ft to celebrate her 80th birthday (Olly Denham/Cornish Parachute Club)

And, after the first skydive, which had to aborted after the plane lost power, she was determined to try again.

“When we got up to 10,000ft, I could tell we were a lot higher than the first attempt and I could see the wonderful blue sea," she continued.

“It was just fantastic, flying over the Cornish countryside."

Ann skydiving from 10,000ft to celebrate her 80th birthday (Olly Denham/Cornish Parachute Club)

“I'd already had a taster of diving from the first attempt, but this one lasted a lot longer," Ann said.

“It was absolutely amazing – I loved every second."

Hoping her story will inspire other older people to realize that age “really is just a number," Ann is adamant that her go-getting nature keeps her young.

Ann has raised £1,000 from her skydiving antics (Caters Photographic/Emily Whitfield-Wicks)

"I understand, particularly because of the lockdown restrictions, that people my age are feeling tired and frustrated," she said.

“My message is to keep being cautious but not to let life pass you by. Look at all the wonderful veterans on the VJ Day anniversary and the amazing Captain Sir Tom – what an inspiration they are to us. As they say, age is just a number."

Ann has raised £1,000 from her skydiving antics (Caters Photographic/Emily Whitfield-Wicks)

To donate to Ann's JustGiving page visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Ann-Maskell or to find out more about McCarthy and Stone retirement living, visit www.mccarthyandstone.co.uk