I Landed a Malfunction

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It wasn’t the smartest move I’ve ever made…

But I walked away …… pretended my right arm didn’t hurt …focused on not limping

Lesley lazy track by Andrey Veselov

Why pretend? Because then I’d have to admit publicly to what I owned up to privately… What the F*ck was I thinking of?!!

No shit there I was…

Tracking from the 6-way base at the women’s world record jumps at Skydive Perris. Had become a bit lazy.. not so much of a track, more of a clear-and–pull. There are only 6 of us after all, no sense in catching up with the wave in front. Except I hadn’t cleared everyone … I was aware of Vaike on my right, opening her canopy at the same time. I still didn’t think it was a problem…

2,000 feet

But of course her canopy turns left and mine turns right and we’re suddenly trucking towards each other in full-on collision mode… We both haul on a riser, miss each other by inches, exchange a single look that said ‘blimey that was close-what were we thinking of?-phew!’ … and I have that surge of adrenalin that comes with a near miss. My canopy is again flying flat and level. I give a big exhale of relief, then go to take my brakes off…

The right brake looks wrong. The slider grommet is stuck over the top of the toggle and the brake won’t release: presumably the result of the evasive manoeuvre. I try a few different angles. No matter how hard I try, nothing happens. I haven’t released the other brake. My canopy is still flying level, straight forward, not a hint of a turn.

When you have a violent malfunction, it is easy to make the decision to chop. When you have a calm one…and have a pretty, fully inflated and flying canopy over your head, that decision isn’t as simple”

Zach Lewis

1,500 feet

Of course I just need to think and I can solve this. It’s not a big problem. I check my altitude: 1,500 feet. I still have some time. I haven’t yet reached my hard deck…

I have the idea if I release the pressure by pulling on the slider I should be able to get the toggle off. I try that. No joy.

I check traffic and am still clear. I pull a riser as directional control, and try pulling down the lines to see if that frees the toggle. Nope. What should I do?…

A phrase floats into my mind. It is in fact a sentence from my first square brief, 28 years ago, “Can you land it safely?” I figure, “Yes, I can land it on back risers”. I don’t think of myself as old school, I’m a current competitor but it just shows how long the first stuff you’re taught stays in your head, even when the sport has long overtaken this advice.

I don’t know of a single skydiver that has ever been killed because they cut away too soon. Many have been killed because they took too long”

Dan BC
Malfunction – photo by PD

1,200 feet

I look at my alti again: 1,200 feet; still some time to go to decision altitude. Okay, here’s what I will do, I’ll keep trying and if I can’t get the toggle off I’ll land it. My head clears; it’s all good. I know what I’m doing, decision made. I pick an area to land on, away from the grass strip that acts as a magnet for canopies. Haul on another back riser and keep trying to take my brake off.

In my inner self I’m sure I can release the brake and everything will be ok, no drama. Try with both hands, one to release the pressure, the other to take it off. Not happening. Gosh there are a lot of canopies in the sky; it would be nice to have some finer control.

900 feet

Under 1,000 feet now… I decide to stop messing with the damn toggle. I could easily make matters worse; a lot of people have had fatal incidents caused by removing brakes low.

Hmmm… now I start to regret my decision. How many times have I landed a canopy on back risers? Zero. None. Never. A friend of mine broke his back doing that, by stalling it. I try some practice flares with back risers and figure I’ll err on the side of under-flaring rather than overdoing it.

600 feet

Part of my mind is beating myself up. I’ve heard Dan BC’s safety briefing here many times, “if you have to think about whether it’s good or not, it’s obviously not good!” … “if you’re not getting any love from your canopy, get rid of it” … crystal clear advice from one of the best skydivers in the world. What was I thinking of? Why didn’t I follow it?

I push these thoughts from my mind and concentrate on the task at hand; landing safely … I can beat myself up later … hopefully not on the way to the hospital 😉

If you have to think about whether your canopy’s good or not, it’s obviously not good!

Dan BC
Landing at Perris – Image by Ray Cottingham

100 feet

Heading towards the piece of ground I’ve selected, I can’t help but think it looks baked dry and very hard. Oh to be able to rewind the clock and get back that altitude when it was still safe to cut away!

Ground is coming closer, VERY QUICKLY!!… Yes, I’m scared… maintain heading… feet together ready for the PLF that I haven’t used in several thousand jumps … 3, 2, 1, pull the back risers, gentle flare, boof, stoof, ka-boom!!! I roll sideways, the ground is damn hard and takes my breath away. My arm hurts; I forgot to keep it out of the way. A bit winded and covered from head to toe in Perris dust, I assess the damage…

0 feet

I’m okay. I know that much. A bit bruised and battered, the most painful part is my forearm. Cool. Time to get up and make the next jump. No time to lick my wounds …

I knew I didn’t know it all but I thought I knew most of it

The next day I notice a bruise the size of an apple on my bum. Lucky it’s tough and well-rounded! It could have been much worse, that landing was way too hard for comfort. The main thing I hurt was my pride, my confidence in my own abilities to make the right decision. I made some good choices, like leaving the toggles alone below 1,000 feet, doing a PLF, and steering away from traffic. But if I could replay the situation I would cut away at 1,500 feet, deploy my reserve and exchange my canopy for one that was more controllable.. a better tool in this sky with over 100 canopies and one that should give me a much softer landing.

Why didn’t I cut away?

I’m still pondering the answer to this one. I thought it wasn’t that big of a deal (wrong), I thought I could solve it (wrong) and I didn’t want the hassle of cutting away (my choice was more hassle). My decisions were poor and I was lucky that I was more winded than wounded.

I learned about skydiving from that

This incident shook me to the core. Why? Because previously I had always dealt (almost) correctly with any safety problems I experienced. I thought I had it all figured out. I publish safety articles every week. I knew I didn’t know it all but I thought I knew most of it. But, as I found out, knowing and doing are different things. No-one is infallible, least of all me. And that lesson in humility was the greatest lesson of all.

Video Example

A similar incident. Liliane, video uploader, chose to land it and was fortunately unhurt…

Landing a brake malfunction (NOT RECOMMENDED!)
Video by Liliane Rodrigues de Sousa
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Meet: Lesley Gale

Lesley has been in love with skydiving for 35 years. She is a multiple world and national record holder and a coach on 20 successful record events worldwide. She has over 100 competition medals spanning more than 25 years and has been on the British 8-way National team at World events. She started Skydive Mag to spread knowledge, information and passion about our amazing sport.
Lesley is delighted to be sponsored by Performance Designs, Sun Path, Cypres, Cookie, Symbiosis suits and Larsen & Brusgaard

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