Skydive Mag


It's All Alright till it Goes Wrong

Words by Christy West

Please watch this video showing one example out of many skydives that led to the writing of this article. 

It's all alright until it goes wrong!

Skydiving Breakoff Safety: Video Takes the Center, High

It’s a super cool shot to get when you’re flying outside video above a skydiving formation – that shot when the camera flyer above drops into the center as the formation breaks away, probably turning in place to watch everyone track far and fast before deploying.

It’s a great shot – that is, as long as everyone is really tracking far and fast. On many occasions, like the above example, the outside camera flyers have had near misses with the people they were filming on deployment. Most of these near misses occur when the camera flyer doesn’t deploy at breakoff altitude, but instead sucks it down to the group’s pull altitude for whatever reason – there isn’t a really good one – and one or more of the formation flyers short tracks and has a 180-degree turn on opening. Or perhaps the group breaks off low, the videographer pulls low because the group broke low, everyone short tracks because they’re low, and now we’re perfectly set up for collisions on opening.

Brit Chicks 2013 – freefall track off
It's the cool shot – but keep it safe guys! — Image by Chris Cook

It’s easy to blame the formation flyers in this scenario – hey, remember the videographer takes the center? But the cameraflyer bears responsibility here as well, because all he or she has to do (usually) to avoid this traffic is to pull at the planned breakoff altitude. The formation flyers should have planned at least 1500 feet of altitude or around 9 seconds (when belly flying) to track away from the center, so by the time they deploy they should be around 1500 feet below and several hundred feet away laterally from the camera flyer.

The group breaks off low, the videographer pulls low because the group broke low, everyone short tracks because they’re low, and now we’re perfectly set up for collisions on opening

With this scenario, the only way the camera flyer should have any traffic issues with their group on deployment is if:

  • The videographer has a canopy malfunction/slow opening, and
  • Someone short tracks or tracks poorly, and
  • The short tracker has a turn on opening that puts them flying back to the center.

It would be a rare skydive for all three of these things to occur together.

Formation flyers (belly or freefly) 

Always be aware that your outside camera flyer (or anyone else) could have a malfunction or off-heading opening on every jump. Break off on time on every skydive, know where you are over the ground while you’re tracking, and after deploying, continue to fly your breakoff radial away from your group’s center until you’ve accounted for all of the canopies in your group and determined that no traffic problems exist.


Upright Vertical World Record Formation 55-way Break-off
55-way Break-off — Image by Gustavo Cabana

If your breakoff radial out of your skydive has put you tracking up or down line of flight, veer away from that direct line a bit if it is safe (i.e., not putting you too close to someone in your group), or consider shortening your track a bit to avoid running under or over groups ahead of or behind you. After opening, fly off the line of flight and account for the canopies of the group before or after you, whichever is closest, before flying up or down line of flight.


Know the group’s breakoff plan and pull on time, in the center, at the planned breakoff altitude, every time. If the formation flyers break off late, don’t let them suck you into their problems. Don’t feel bad about pulling on time even if they’re still turning points, because there is no good reason to get down in the mix with the formation flyers. 


Brit Chicks 2013, tracking off as Willy opens - cloud
Cameraman Willy Boeykens has the right idea on break-off – open in clear skies — Image by Willy Boeykens

Some of these situations have occurred because the videographer was concerned about opening high and landing off due to bad spots and/or being off the wind line, but keep this in mind: the risk of injury or death from canopy collisions is far higher than those of landing off. You know how to land a parachute safely and you learned about landing off in the first-jump course but no amount of skill will save you from injury due to collision. Use your skills (and your brain) to avoid the collisions. Don’t let concerns about landing make your breakoff and deployment more dangerous; minimize each risk in order.

Know the group’s breakoff plan and pull on time, in the center, at the planned breakoff altitude, every time

Be safe out there!

NB – We recommend that all skydivers wear audible altimeters – videographers included.

Article from Skydive Spaceland, Houston's website 

Check yesterday's article on Flat Tracking to improve your survival skills.

Thank you to the flyers in the video for putting their near miss on line to help us learn from it. 

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