Embracing Close Calls

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Close calls are an opportunity to learn and become safer as a collective

Are you embracing close calls?

Or hiding from them to save your ego?

Gear checks before exit are a non-negotiable must

A lesser experienced skydiver shared with me recently that she’d gone to a boogie and had a question about something that had happened on one of her jumps. She shared that one of the LOs was taking her and a friend for a skydive. At the very last moment, the organizer added a few more people to the jump, which isn’t unusual at a boogie where anything goes in terms of group size and skill. In a rush with everyone running to the plane, the jump was not briefed or walked. The skydive was a mess. It was an 8-way that was meant to build a hybrid as a way of keeping the very beginner skydivers and the experienced jumpers together on the jump. As there was no briefing, when the hybrid exploded, the LO and a few others went into a vertical jump while the original group of beginner belly flyers remained on their bellies for lack of being able to do anything else. This created a vertical speed difference and one of the belly flyers and one of the vertical flyers collided, resulting in an injury. 

When everyone landed, and the commotion on the ground from the injury was a bit more calm, the LO insisted that everyone delete their GoPro footage. This particular skydiver who shared the story with me did not delete her video. She’d had the common sense to want to ask what she could learn from this situation. Sadly, those who were more experienced than her wanted to make the situation disappear, fearing anyone find out that they made a poor judgement call in the skydive.

Mistakes are normal

Mistakes are a part of everything in life. They are simply unavoidable. As what we’re doing has many variables every jump, it’s of vital importance that we can own our mistakes and share them in order to help others understand how to hopefully avoid them. Those who are willing to discuss mistakes to keep everyone safe are not only taking important lessons away from the experience, but are a part of a greater movement towards a safer, more knowledgeable sport.

The shame isn’t in making the mistake. A mistake can be traced back to not just poor decision making, but to many things such as lack of understanding, incorrect or no information, lack of experience, lack of well thought out planning and more. To highlight the situation as a way to learn also helps to identify the areas in which more information is needed. The shame is actually in putting more value in ego than the lives of our fellow skydivers. 

Landing against traffic is a close call that should be debriefed
Photo by Mike McGowan

Mistakes can lead to progress

Our sport as we know it is only about 60 years old. Equipment, training standards and dropzone operations have developed from a somewhat shaky beginning to the impressive safety standards we enjoy today. This has only happened because manufacturers, dropzones and individuals have shared details of incidents and near-incidents, allowing the sport to become safer through shared knowledge. This must continue, in order that we keep growing, learning and improving practices. 

Safety culture is something to strive for

Hold yourself to a high standard of transparency and be a leader in the way you handle your mistakes. Own your close calls by opening them up for discussion as a way to learn and educate.  Safety culture is a responsibility of every single skydiver. Our ability to be transparent in our incidents, mistakes, and close calls is what drives this culture. But also our ability to speak to others who have made the mistakes/close calls is equally as important. How we handle those difficult conversations with others who were the issue is an art we should all practice. An article by Dan BC speaks to this point: Safety Culture

It’s often the most experienced jumpers, like Dan, who will readily ‘fess up to their mistakes. Partly as they have seen the sometimes tragic consequences of not doing so, and partly because they are secure enough as skydivers to realize that no one thinks less of them for this. In reality, other jumpers respect people willing to share their errors for the good of the flock.

Our due diligence isn’t just for us, it’s for all involved in the sport
Photo by Mark ‘Trunk’ Kirschenbaum

Let’s aim high when it comes to safety

When we’re playing such a risky game, we have to adapt ourselves to be able to show up in a way that allows for us to be transparent and studious. Hiding isn’t an option if we’re to expect our sport to evolve safely and to keep ourselves and each other safe. Once we learn how to leave the emotions aside and drop the ego, we can then fully embrace debriefing incidents and mistakes as a way to increase the safety and knowledge of our beloved sport, for ourselves and for everyone around us.

Stay safe out there!

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Meet: Alethia Austin

Alethia is a passionate full time international angle and freefly coach. As the creator of LSD Bigway Camps and LSD Angle Camps, she's been running skills camps in skydiving for over 8 years around the world. Some of her coaching and LSD camps have taken her to Botswana, Egypt, Central America, North America, Europe and more. Alethia brings her years of yoga teaching, love of good health and healthy living into the way she coaches angle flying and vertical flying. Alethia was a regional captain for the Women's Vertical World Record and has two world records. Her sponsors include UPT, Tonfly, PD, Cypres and LB Altimeters.

You can find her on Instagram at Instagram.com/alethiaja

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