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Houston, we have a Problem!

AFF Level 1 – Horseshoe Emergency!

by Lesley Gale
by Lesley Gale

In popular culture, the horseshoe is one of the oldest talismans in history, a magic symbol capable of protecting you from the environment, dispelling doubts or conflicts, until you get wishes or attract good fortune …

In skydiving, it's a nasty kind of emergency

Horseshoe_______: The pilot chute or bridle is hooked over some part of the harness, container or body, the main parachute still in the container_

In the manual we studied when we started the AFF, it's listed as a high speed emergency, ie, you continue with almost the same speed as in freefall: a situation where you have to react calmly but quickly.

It is very unusual and unlucky to have an emergency of this type, especially on your first jump. But when we start skydiving, we must be aware that extreme things can happen and we have to be prepared. It's important to be clear about the correct procedure and to trust in the knowledge, experience and professionalism of your AFF instructors.

Klara Branchadell is a 26 year old skydiver who had a horseshoe malfunction on level 1 of her AFF course. The action starts around 45 seconds into the video…

in 16 years of skydiving I have never seen it live – a horseshoe, or bridle caught on the foot

Instructor Viewpoint

Primary instructor Willy Ramos gave us his view, highlighting that all lessons were learned:

“From my point of view, this emergency is explained in the AFF course but in 16 years of skydiving I have never seen it live – a horseshoe, or bridle hooked on the foot.

“The normal thing in this emergency would be that the pilot chute is looped around the foot or some part of the jumper, being slightly caught but can be released with a simple pull, so the main canopy opens. In this case, the pilot chute was not only caught on the foot, but looped into a complete knot (this can be seen in the video frame by frame), a knot that was impossible for us to perceive in free fall at that speed.

“Oscar, the secondary instructor, tried to unhook the pilot chute (since he had not seen the video) putting all his effort into it. When he was pushed away by his change of position, I had to cling to Klara as best I could, and aim to open the reserve, otherwise she would freefall down to the height of the Cypres AAD firing, deploying the reserve and this could have been a worse situation.

“When Oscar was catapulted off, I hooked my hand in Klara's harness and got under it to pull the reserve handle and open the reserve canopy. We were already at 3,000 feet and I thought that I would not have time to cut away and open the reserve, so I opted to just go straight for the reserve handle.

We were already at 3,000 feet and I thought that I would not have time to cut away and open the reserve, so I opted to just go straight for the reserve handle.

“I must point out that the correct procedure of an AFF instructor faced with a student with a horseshoe malfunction that doesn't release with a simple pull should be: pull the main cutaway handle, then open the reserve by pulling the reserve handle. This is also the procedure that the student should follow, after trying to get rid of the horseshoe – but if he/she does not do it, it is the instructors’ responsibility. You can always learn from an emergency and this must be our lesson.

“I’m glad that nothing more serious happened and that Klara continued to jump normally. She has a ‘tattoo’ on her foot that reminds her that day, since she had a small mark from the knot in the bridle of the pilot chute ;-). Several months after that we started dating and we're still together :)

“Every incident video and first-hand description of the problem should be disseminated, so that everyone in the sport can learn from it. Happily we do not have anything to regret, as it all ended well in this case. We were all lucky that day, and we have learned something that can make our jumps safer. Klara today has more than 100 jumps.”

Today Klara has more than 100 jumps and loves the sport! — by Willy Ramos
Today Klara has more than 100 jumps and loves the sport! — by Willy Ramos

Emergencies exist and can happen to anyone, with one or ten thousand jumps. That's why it's important to keep yourself up to date with developments and maintain an active knowledge about safety.

Nothing ever happens … until it happens! Are you ready?

Don't rely on luck, instead be prepared
Don't rely on luck, instead be prepared

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