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Former President Bush, age 80, makes jump for joy

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Former President George H.W. Bush yesterday celebrated his 80th birthday with a parachute jump from 13,000 feet over his presidential library.

He made a tandem jump -- harnessed to a member of an Army Golden Knights parachute team -- after officials decided that the wind conditions and low clouds made it too dangerous for the 41st president to jump alone, which he did when he turned 75.

''This was a real thrill for me," said Bush, wearing a black-and-gold jumpsuit. ''I felt no fear . . . to get a chance to jump with the Golden Knights is a dream."

With Staff Sergeant Bryan Schnell on his back and a black-and-gold parachute ballooning above them, Bush waved to greet about 4,000 spectators as he neared the drop zone -- a painted logo of ''41 at 80" on the grounds of his presidential library at Texas A&M University.

''It's been a great day," Bush said after sailing to the ground, landing, and scooting a ways on his backside. ''This was a day of joy and a day of wonder for the Bush family, certainly for the old guy."

The crowd included his wife, Barbara, his son Jeb Bush -- governor of Florida -- and former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev -- whom Bush had invited to jump with him.

''Afraid," Gorbachev said through an interpreter, explaining why he declined the offer. ''Maybe on his 90th birthday. . . . For me, it would be a first. At my age, that may kill me."

Bush, who turned 80 on Saturday, said yesterday he hoped his stunt sent a message to people that ''at 80 years old, you've still got a life."

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