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Big-way Bites 10 – Organizing a SAFE event

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Kate Cooper-Jensen advises on how to run a safe and successful big-way event

Coordinating this number of aircraft and jumpers should not be taken lightly
Photo by Luciano Bacqué

Safety should be the number one priority for any event.

If the following procedures are put into place and rigorously enforced then it sends a message to all participants that the organizing team is serious about this goal…

Here are some guidelines for making any skydiving event, small or large, as safe as possible. These rules have been developed by a group of large formation organizers and have been used on local, state, national and world record events in multiple locations. This is not meant to be a complete or all-encompassing list for safety on large formations; please feel free to share, adapt or modify these guidelines in any way to make YOUR event safer.

Set a plan for the dropzone , make sure all participants know the plan, and then follow the plan”

Be calm in the plane and stay seated
Photo by Willy Boeykens

AIRCRAFT SAFETY

About 5 minutes before exit (or below 12,000 feet if going to higher than normal altitudes), CHECK YOUR GEAR! Get and give pin checks. Check all handles and stow riser covers that may have come loose. Tuck pilot chutes in as needed.

In the plane everyone should remain in their seats and keep still. If your bench needs to be raised prior to exit do this with minimum movement and stay as still as possible. If going to high altitudes then do not talk after the oxygen has been turned on — use hand signals if needed. On jump run brief that only the plane captain, the pilot, and any designated person(s) may talk. Keep on oxygen as long as possible — even while walking to the door.

IF THE PLANE IS AT ALTITUDE MAKE SURE EVERYONE KNOWS TO BE QUIET! When the plane is at altitude, in formation and heading to the DZ then everyone should be ready to skydive. Remind jumpers that exit may come at lower altitudes than planned, so they need to be ready to skydive at any time.

Photo by Craig O’Brien

FREEFALL SAFETY

Rehearse break-off procedures thoroughly and assign opening altitudes to participants. Make sure they understand if the assigned altitudes are ‘deployment’ (ie, when you throw your pilot chute) or ‘in the saddle’ (canopy fully open) altitudes. Question if everyone has a suitable canopy to follow these procedures; if not they need to borrow a suitable demo canopy to avoid putting themselves and your team at risk.

A big-way funnel is a safety hazard so it’s important to brief everyone to follow the break-off plan regardless. Photo by Andrey Veselov

If jumpers do not open at the correct assigned altitude, a warning may be issued as needed, and then LOW AND HIGH PULLERS MAY BE GROUNDED.

Jumpers should use a flat track and be aware of the people around and in front of them in their tracking teams and neighboring ones. No steep or ‘diving’ tracks should be allowed. If jumpers go low or are in a funnel and are unable to dock prior to breakoff, then they should become part of the first tracking team — so everyone should know the track and deployment altitudes of the first wave and be prepared to follow them.

LOW AND HIGH PULLERS MAY BE GROUNDED”

Willy Boeykens getting ready to enter the pattern over Skydive Perris
Photo by Craig O’Brien

CANOPY SAFETY

After canopy opening brief your participants to NOT REMOVE BOOTIES or any part of their equipment. Know where people are when they deploy and have hands on rear risers to be prepared for avoidance. Sliders may be collapsed and stowed after they have clear airspace.

A wing loading between 1.25 and 1.75 (minimum and maximum) is a common recommendation so that all canopies will be flying at roughly the same speed. If anyone is jumping a canopy that will not allow them to choose a slight down or crosswind landing, this puts THE WHOLE TEAM in danger.

Participants must all land in the same direction, even if it is downwind
Photo by Willy Boeykens

LANDING SAFETY

NO SWOOP, HOOK TURN, or HIGH PERFORMANCE LANDINGS OF ANY KIND should be allowed on large formation skydives for the safety of all participants. This includes camera personnel, organizers, and DZ staff. No maneuvers (such as spirals, S-turns on final approach, deep brakes on final approach, or turns over 90 degrees in the pattern) should be allowed.

Many dropzones prefer either a left- or right-handed pattern for canopy flight. Know the rules at the drop zone you are jumping at and brief accordingly.

One method of setting up a predictable and safe landing pattern follows: on each jump all jumpers should enter into the pattern into the wind at 1,000 feet over the target. They can then turn to the left until 800 feet, turn left again (downwind leg) until 500 feet. And finally INITIATE THEIR FINAL TURN AT 300 – 500 FEET. Another method would be to allow people to choose the pattern they desire but then state that no high performance landings or turns of greater than 90 degrees will be tolerated on final. Set a plan that best benefits the dropzone you are jumping at, make sure all participants know the plan, and then follow the plan.

Designated mandatory landing directions and areas are often assigned on large formation dives. Indicate on a map of the landing zones prior to jumping if needed.

On any and all out landings (outside your designated landing area) jumpers must initiate their final at 500 feet. This is an absolute rule.

It is best to require that jumpers land IN THE SAME DIRECTION REGARDLESS of wind direction. Be clear about how this is indicated; eg, first person down, an arrow/tetrahedron or pre-assigned. It is better to have a large group land downwind or crosswind as a group than to have individuals choosing their own landing pattern.

In the case of an off dropzone landing all participants should be required to check in after landing. In the event of an off-landing, remind them to gather together in groups, walk to the nearest road and wait for transportation to arrive from the DZ.

These rules are meant for dives of all sizes, from 20 to 400, and at dropzones utilizing single aircraft to major boogies or DZs where multiple aircraft are routinely used. Have fun – be safe.


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Meet: Kate Cooper-Jensen

Kate Cooper-Jensen started skydiving in 1978 and quickly became a prominent figure in the sport. Kate founded P3 Skydiving, together with Tony Domenico, the first big-way skydiving school, and has helped countless people achieve their big-way and record dreams.
Kate has been a participant and many times an organiser in over 30 World and National Records.

Organizer of numerous women's world records including 118-way (1999), 132-way (2002), 151-way (2005), 181-way (2009). Sequential women's world and open world record 117-way (2014), Sequential women's European and World Records 2-and 3-point 46-way, (2016); 2- and 3-point 56-way, 2016 and 3 x 60-way (2018).

Raised 1.9 million for breast cancer charities. Recipient of the USPA gold medal for meritorious achievement (2015). Inducted into Skydiving Hall of Fame (2019).

Kate is sponsored by Skydive Perris, Aerodyne, Cookie Helmets, L&B altimeters, Vertical jumpsuits and Vigil.

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