Jumping out of a perfectly good airplane is not a normal thing to do. It takes a special kind of person to make that first jump and an even more special person to become a skydiver. We are people from all walks of life who share an intense and unusual passion for human flight. The passion is so strong that despite significant risk, investment, sacrifice and basic common sense, we are drawn to the skies where we face our fears and learn to fly. And there is nothing in the world that compares to flying.
The one thing that can diminish a love of skydiving is seeing or hearing about accidents. Anytime a skydiver dies or is seriously injured, it hurts us all. The good news is that the industry has figured out the most common causes of skydiving accidents, and we have the power to avoid the vast majority of them. Our enemy is complacency…
The marvelous advancements in training and equipment have lulled many of us into a false sense of security. With wind tunnels and AFF training, our freefall skills advance very quickly. We become comfortable and confident in the air with only a handful of jumps. It wouldn’t hurt for us to stay a bit more scared for a little longer. These advanced freefall skills don’t always equate to good aerial awareness. Good decision-making survival skills come only with practice and experience.
Too often, we give up taking responsibility for ourselves and rely entirely on our equipment. For example, during a big-way formation skydive, one person deployed his main so low that it opened just as his automatic activation device (AAD) fired. He ended up with two canopies out and landed safely out of pure luck. Afterward, he said he went low because his audible altimeter didn’t work. Although he had plenty of separation, the other jumpers were deploying, the horizon was rising toward him and he could have safely deployed more than 1,500 feet earlier, he waited for his audible altimeter and ignored the obvious. An audible altimeter is a valuable safety tool, but we shouldn’t let a small, fallible device be our only source of altitude awareness.
It is only jumpers who can make the skies safe. Even if we have the best equipment, benefitted from great training and jump at a DZ with the strictest safety rules, we have to take full responsibility for making safety happen. The good news is it’s not difficult or complicated to skydive safely. We know what can go wrong in the air. The proper procedures for handling most of these emergencies are simple but they are also very time-sensitive. If we see a problem, we must automatically and immediately respond correctly.
After cutting away and landing safely under my reserve, several jumpers asked me what type of malfunction I had. I told them, “I don’t know.” They couldn’t believe my answer. But I hadn’t examined my equipment during the malfunction to see what was wrong. It just wasn’t right! That’s all I needed to know. I cut away less than two seconds after the main canopy was out.
Too frequently, skydivers land canopies they should have cut away or are indecisive and take too long to cut away. Sometimes, the result is fatal. Skydivers say, “I thought I could get out of it,” or, “I wasn’t sure if it was good or not.” If you have to ask yourself if your canopy is good or not, then it’s not good!
Remember back to when you were a student: freefall was fast and loud, your heart was pumping, and adrenaline ran through your veins. You’d throw out your pilot chute and gently slow down as your main parachute blossomed open. Hanging underneath your parachute, everything was quiet and serene, the opposite of freefall. As you looked up at your canopy, it was almost as if it were looking down at you and saying, “It’s all good, I got you.” It felt like you were getting some love from your canopy… your best friend. So, if you look up at your canopy and you’re not getting any love, cut it away!
Unsafe is Uncool
Being unsafe is uncool. The skies are big and a DZ manager can’t see everything. It takes every jumper on your DZ to make your drop zone a safe one. If you see people being complacent, call them on it. If they are not paying enough attention to safe pattern flying, tell them so. Most people have a high regard for safety and think they are flying correctly. Let them know if they’re not.
I have been jumping for 33 years, have more than 25,000 jumps and have never been seriously injured. I’d like to say this safety record is due to my diligence and smart decision-making. But I also know that I got lucky many times. At this point, I figure my good luck has run out. Now I make every effort to maintain the highest degree of safety and to be ready for anything at any time. Please consider doing the same.
There is no room in our sport for complacency!
- Take Charge! - 16th August 2021
- P3 Power Play 2021 - 15th July 2021
- One Big Family - 10th June 2021
- Let’s talk Canopy COLLISIONS - 18th May 2021
- Safety Culture - 29th April 2021
- P3 Winter Fling - 6th March 2021
- Danny Boy - 8th December 2020
- Power Play 2020 - 8th July 2020
Please check out my book 'Above All Else' here