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It’s jump seven of a 10-jump day. We’re at beautiful Skydive Algarve, training 8-way over a long weekend, in gorgeous sunny weather. It's a pick-up team so we haven’t yet got to the point of irritating each other. We're doing good jumps, larking around and having a great time. All is good in Lesleyworld! :)
I’m under canopy looking at the spectacular view, counting my blessings and thinking how much I love the sport – when all of a sudden I freeze in horror! The first canopy down has landed 180° to the direction we’ve been using all day, which I blithely assumed would still be the case. I’m set up to land in the other direction, and have been too busy daydreaming to pay attention to the pattern. I look at my alti: 700 feet. It's not good. The landing area is kind of tight at Algarve when doing back-to-backs – it’s a narrow strip with only two landing directions. There really is no excuse for my lack of attention.
I gently pump in three-quarter brakes, and tweak my canopy upwards to gain some extra height. Conserving as much altitude as I can, I ease myself ever so gently over the hangar and squeeze myself into the correct pattern – feeling labored, like a fat boy on a level approach to a floaty diamond formation.
I love my Stiletto! It always gives me a bit of extra lift to get me out of the shit I can get myself into! I land my canopy sweetly and run for the next load. No-one other than me even notices that there was a problem. BUT I knew I’d just had a wake up call and it was time to have a serious word with myself. Forgetting basics like checking the landing direction on opening and not paying attention to the canopies around me could easily have ended in disaster. I was lucky. I told myself to WAKE THE F*CK UP! Under canopy is not the time to be thinking of anything else other than flying and landing safely.
I knew I’d just had a wake up call and it was time to have a serious word with myself
Why am I writing this article when nothing bad really happened? It’s to point out that the difference between those who stay alive and those who don’t can be recognizing when they have a wake-up call and themselves to task – saying to oneself what you would say to someone else who commits basic safety errors. We all know that complacency kills – but it's such an easy trap to slide back into… like slipping back into smoking or that early morning donut!
the difference between those who stay alive and those who don’t can be recognizing when they have a wake-up call and taking themselves to task
We tend to judge events by their outcomes, so if nothing bad happens as a result of a mistake it's easy to ignore it. But if we judge events by what could have happened we can learn important lessons, which should prevent a recurrence of the same mistake with a much worse outcome. In this scenario I could have had to land in the wrong direction, onto hazards or caused a canopy collision – with injuries or death as a result. The problem was my state of mind was too blasé – a hideous mistake.
I shared my story with the team that night and almost everyone had had a similar experience of a ‘wake-up call’:
Jumper X missed a potential killer in a flightline check.
Jumper Y was about to deploy when he realised his car keys were rattling on the back of his helmet - ‘ting, ting, ting!’. He started to save his keys rather than opening his canopy!
Jumper Z was in the base for a big-way camp and ended up deploying at 1500 feet with no real reason other than a sloppy break-off.
Shrugging off a near-incident that could have killed or hurt you and others is just lying to yourself. If you get a 'wake up call', best to have a word with yourself about the precise issue at hand, work out what you can do to fix the problem, and add some years to your life expectancy.