BYRON -- Royal Yocum's doctor refused to give him his blessing. His pastor prayed for him. And his lady friend wouldn't dream of accompanying him.

On Friday, the Antioch great-grandfather of four marked his 96th birthday by jumping out of a plane from 13,000 feet.

"Being up there is a whole different sensation ... it's a thrill," Yocum said before launch as he paused from reading the fine print of a four-page liability waiver form and initialing each clause in a shaky hand.

The unorthodox celebration at Byron Airport marked the fourth time that Yocum has gone tandem parachuting, determined to defend his record as the oldest customer that Bay Area Skydiving has taken into the wild blue yonder.

"He wants to be the oldest person doing something," said his daughter, Roila Norgol, who plans to submit his exploits to Guinness World Records.

Yocum, a former longtime Antioch Unified School District employee who first took the leap of faith when he turned 90, also spent one birthday scooting along a zip line at Moaning Cavern in California's Gold Country.

Although he walks a little more slowly these days and keeps his cane handy, his eyesight is still pretty good, Norgol said, adding that her father never needed surgery until a couple of years ago when doctors removed gallstones.

Yocum also has an independent streak that's prompted him to take cruises to Alaska and Hawaii as well as a train ride to Branson, Mo., with his 88-year-old companion, Mary Erickson.


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Friday, after donning the jumpsuit with a little help from his tandem instructor, Yocum shared a brief prayer for safety with his pastor and kissed Mary goodbye.

"Well, I think I'm ready," he announced.

And with that Yocum headed off to a twin-engine turboprop waiting nearby.

As it circled the airport, the plane unloaded parachutists one by one until only Yocum was left.

Stepping into nothingness, he free-fell for a minute before the red and gold-striped parachute opened and began gliding earthward on a mild breeze.

Upon landing, a beaming Yocum climbed into an all-terrain vehicle for the short ride back to the hangar where chocolate cake and sparkling apple cider awaited.

"You got me down for next year?" he asked the business's owner.

A father and daughter who had just arrived for their sky diving appointment expressed incredulity when they learned Yocum's age, and his instructor had a picture taken of the two of them hoping that the evidence would persuade his grandparents to try the sport.

Yocum said he plans to continue the birthday jumps until he's 100.

And after that?

Yocum smiled.

"I don't know -- it depends on how I feel," he said.

Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Reach her at Twitter.com/rowenacoetsee.