June 12, 2014 8:20 pm

Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush celebrates 90th birthday with parachute jump

Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush celebrated his 90th birthday on 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 metres) 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.

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“The landing was a little rougher than normal,” said Mike Elliott, a member of The All Veteran Parachute Team who jumped in tandem with Bush.

“Because of the legs, him being so tall, his legs hanging down below mine, (there was) really no way to get his legs up. We modified the jump suit with handles but he just didn’t have the strength to get his legs up.”

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 wrote on Twitter before jumping.

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

Other birthday festivities included a private dinner with more than 200 relatives and friends.

© The Canadian Press, 2014

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