Carmen Hübner analyses recent Cypres Saves to identify the most common causes…
This is the comment made to me most often since I’ve been working in the AAD industry. I could not really work it out at first. Until I started jumping myself.
I’m Carmen and I have been working for Airtec for more than 12 years. I was not a skydiver in the first place. My job and also my vocation is being a business economist, quite boring for most of the skydivers I meet. 😉 But I love it!
I came to jumping aged 30-something, when I couldn´t say ‘No’ any more to Helmut’s urging to do a First Jump Course. Everyone who knows him [Helmut Cloth, CEO of Airtec] knows how persistent he can be. I didn´t really want to do a jump, because I was totally immersed in my hobby of scuba-diving, an Instructor, teaching my daughter and other little beginner divers. Somehow, I knew skydiving would be a lot of fun for me. But I also knew that two costly, time-consuming hobbies would not work well at all.
So, here I am, and what can I say?! … I’m not married any more and I haven’t been scuba-diving since my first jump in 2015! 😉
As I work for Airtec, ‘Safety’ is all around me, and the sentence I mentioned at the beginning haunts me.
If I ever need my CYPRES, I will quit skydiving
I hear it at least once at every dropzone I go to. In the beginning, I thought it was because I work for CYPRES and people want to tell me that we are not really needed. But I’ve heard it over and over again, mostly from people who have been in the sport for a long time, so long that they jumped without an AAD.
It made me very thoughtful, because Helmut invented the device so that skydivers could survive and keep jumping. For a long time I couldn’t connect the two ideas. Now, a few years later and from a certain point of view, I can understand this attitude. If you find yourself no longer mentally able to bring yourself to the ground in one piece, and you actually have the feeling you can no longer process the abundance of impressions you have while skydiving, then – yes, you should actually stop jumping. It is good if you have this insight and decide independently before an AAD fire does it for you.
But on the other hand, in my time at Airtec, there have been countless saves where people were happy that we exist and who carried on skydiving successfully and without feeling ashamed of having made a mistake.
What Causes a Cypres Fire?
I’ve been looking through the Save Reports of the last 3 years, to analyse the most common scenarios of a CYPRES Fire. They are:
- Lack of altitude awareness
- Lack of knowledge of the gear
- Unconscious and/or medical problem
1. Altitude awareness
I list a few cases here which are described in this way or similar in our save reports:
- Instructor student situation. AFF student gets away, goes into a spin, panics, instructor tries too long to reach the student. Cypres of both student and instructor fires.“
- Low main opening, often due to lack of separation after a formation. Other jumpers are nearby so a jumper decides to open a bit lower; when the main parachute is opening the Cypres fires in addition, deploying the reserve.
- Inexperienced jumper freezes. Jumper with 80 jumps in the last two years, completely loses altitude awareness. He does not pull his main and doesn´t try anything else. The Cypres opens the reserve.
- Target fixation. There is an impressive video (below) of two jumpers from Argentina, where the reason of a CYPRES fire is … the joy of having finally found each other in freefall. In this case I would almost agree if someone said he wouldn´t jump any more. But, I also believe that this would never happen to them again afterwards. Without a CYPRES it would have been their last jump. And if the video didn´t exist, the two guys would probably secretly get themselves a new Cutter and never talk about it again.
Double CYPRES Fire
Maintain altitude awareness
I think there is something to learn from these mistakes, nothing special nothing new, but altitude awareness can’t be stressed often enough:
- Always reassure yourself about the altitude
- Do not rely on audible altimeters
- Personally, I repeatedly look at my altimeter at certain points on my way to altitude, until we reach the drop altitude. What you do before the jump, you repeat in the jump. That’s my experience.
- Instructors must repeatedly point out that altitude is being checked, this must be practiced again and again in the training scenarios.
- Repeating Emergency Procedures, again and again and again. For yourself, and to be a good role model for other jumpers.
2. Lack of knowledge/familiarity with the gear
The second most common reason for a CYPRES Fire is; not understanding the gear and its components. This led to some cutaway failures. Some extracts from the Save Reports:
- Skydiver with 56 jumps cuts away his main canopy after a malfunction. He is not able to locate his reserve handle. Cypres activates the reserve.
- Skydiver with 60 jumps jumping a borrowed rig. He experiences a hard pull. He tries to go for the reserve but he doesn´t find the handle because it is located a little bit higher than on his own rig. He kept trying to find the handle until the Cypres fires.
- Report of a skydiver jumping a borrowed rig: “I had an opening of the reserve, due to the effect of the CYPRES and during the landing phase with my main parachute. I flew a 450 turn in synchronization with another skydiver. In the final phase I was offset and continued my swoop by flying past him. At the exit of the turn at about 2m, the Cypres fired and the freebag came out. A few seconds later the main canopy dropped behind me, but had no time to fill. As I lit out the canopy, I felt some turbulence (due to the ejection of the freebag and reserve chute, which I tried to correct, then land properly). I landed about 30 m further away than the freebag. My experience is around 2200 jumps. I do not feel that I have reached the working speed of the CYPRES. The opening was when I had already flattened my canopy and the direction of flight was horizontal. I generally fly a Leia 73 with a Cypres Speed, but I have been jumping with this for a month and have completed 23 flights before the incident.”
Additional Information: The jumper was skydiving with a friend’s rig, and the Cypres installed is a C-Mode, but not set to Speed (calibrated for high speed landings), instead it was on Expert (standard) mode.
Unfortunately, feelings are often deceiving, you can´t estimate a speed or height from impressions. I am sometimes convinced my gut feeling is right, but after fact checking humbly admit it was wrong.
Here we have also some things to learn from, good to remember about no matter how experienced you are.
- Always check your equipment before every jump, especially if it is borrowed or unknown. Try the rig on and do some practice pulls if it is unfamiliar.
- Read the manuals of your gear again, and again if necessary. Ask coaches or instructors if something is unclear, or call the manufacturer. Have as much knowledge as possible and everything under control.
- Check where your handles are in the airplane, in free fall, and under canopy – especially on a ‘normal’ jump. Then, in case of emergency your eyes and hands will know instinctively where to go.
- Train EPs, and repeat, repeat, repeat.
3. Unconscious and/or medical problems
Medical issues are the third most common reason for a CYPRES fire, as demonstrated by the examples below.
- Cutaway pad is disconnected on a front float exit. The jumper deploys his pilot chute, which extracts the main, as the risers release. There is no attempt to pull any more handles. The jumper is convinced he is going to die and is tracking towards water when the Cypres activates.
- On a 6-way tracking dive a skydiver is unconscious after a collision, the Cypres initiates the reserve opening. He lands, still unconscious in a tree.
- A skydiver exits a plane that is still climbing and hits the stabilizer. The skydiver is immediately unconscious and freefalls until the Cypres fires. She wakes up several minutes after the landing.
- An experienced skydiver dislocates his right shoulder in free fall. He thinks about his emergency procedures and decides that Cypres is his last chance. He makes no attempt to pull the reserve with his left hand.
These cases describe for me, actual rescues, because such situations sometimes happen. However, you can avert possible disaster by remembering a few things:
- Communication should work well between all jumpers and the pilot.
- Know your own limits and don’t overstretch yourself with a jump.
- Make sure that you are mentally and physically fit. If you don’t feel well, don’t go jumping.
In summary, as in life, it is also in skydiving, mistakes are going to happen. They may be stupid or not, fatal or minor, a chain of unfortunate coincidences. We can always learn from them. All the mistakes that have been made and are still being made, mean that individuals and companies can draw conclusions and develop further. Without AADs, many people would probably have simply died without anybody being able to understand what happened and why an error occurred.
And if your CYPRES fires because of a really stupid mistake, you just have to expose yourself to the brunt of the skydiving community and be ashamed. Anything is better than having to die or quit skydiving. 😉
Or, you can call me, I will secretly sell you a new Cutter and not tell anybody.