Safety culture works

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Leo found out first hand that Dan BC’s drilling of safety culture delivers the goods when it counts…

Leo, 49 jumps at the time he wrote this report
Photo by Dennis Sattler

This is the story in his own words…

It was November 2020. The pandemic had stifled the usual adventure, travel, and festivities. and the monotony of day-to-day pandemic life was getting to me. Frustrated and depressed, I decided to go on a road trip to Utah. While searching for things to do along the way, skydiving kept popping up. Before that moment I simply knew I didn’t have the courage to do it, but this time my mental disposition had me ready to challenge my comfort zone. On the way back from the alien rock formations of the Devils Garden and the majestic Bryce canyon in Utah, I stopped in Las Vegas Nevada for my first tandem skydive.  

In freefall for the first time 🙂
Photo courtesy of Leo

A new life passion was born

The incredibly empowering feeling of accomplishment for having overcome all the nerves and fearful thoughts hit me as soon as we started freefalling. Under canopy I was already contemplating confronting the challenge of learning to skydive solo. After another tandem skydive on New Year’s Day 2021 at Skydive Perris in California, I committed to taking skydiving lessons there so I could actually do it.

Going through the AFF course to learn to skydive, I was surprised at how quickly my nerves, particularly at the plane door just before jumping dissipated. Gradually, until about 13 jumps or so, the surreal and nerve-racking challenge of jumping out of a plane had become normalized. Considering how quickly our nerves can adapt to such extreme situations and folks who might not otherwise be acrobatic start pulling off back flips and barrel rolls, it’s not difficult to see how easily we can become complacent and take the inherent danger of jumping out of a plane for granted.

 The incredibly empowering feeling of accomplishment for having overcome all the nerves and fearful thoughts hit me

A happy Leo during his first AFF jump
Photo courtesy of Skydive Perris

Meeting this guy, Dan…

After graduating AFF I had met this guy Dan who offered to do a gear check, made sure I knew my position in the exit order and reminded me to practice emergency procedures while we waited for the plane and again while ascending in it. I feel fortunate to have had him reinforce a mindfulness of a basic safety process my first solo and that the annual Safety Day event was also happening around that time, all of which planted the seeds of a “Culture of Safety” mindset at the beginning of my skydiving adventure. It turned out, as many of you have already guessed, that Dan is a manager at the DZ and a world champion skydiver who was speaking at the event. 

Much of it is basic common sense precautionary measures like doing proper gear checks, respecting the exit order, ensuring good separation and remaining aware of your surroundings. Besides reinforcing basic best practices to best ensure each other’s safety, Dan shares his process and mindset of practicing EPs assuming he may need to mitigate a malfunction on every jump and suggests that these decisions are made on the ground. It all sounded good, practical, made sense. I appreciated that adopting this mindset of assuming I might need to mitigate a challenge on a jump gave me back just enough of a healthy level of nerves to keep me alert and from getting complacent. Still, it wasn’t until I directly experienced the effects of our training and this mindset that I really appreciated the weight of its importance.

The incident

 I was really looking forward to canopy flight and landing, so this jump that day I just relaxed and enjoyed the view while freefalling. Pull altitude comes along, I pull… and… ugh!… line twist. No fun, but not a big deal. I start trying to mitigate it, pulling risers apart and kicking in the opposite direction when shortly thereafter the canopy dives down right in front of me and with increasing speed and a loud “Woosh!”, started a violent spin.

Without a thought or hesitation, I initiated emergency procedures. The main released, I fell back momentarily and by the next breath the reserve canopy had opened. I was not in the mood to deal with another line twist, but considering I was beginning to freefall backwards, its unsurprising the reserve opened into one. Luckily it was easy to resolve and though no one ever told me reserve canopy toggles have such a mushy lack of responsiveness, it did what it was designed to do and I landed safely. Thanks, Cody! 

Without a thought or hesitation, I initiated emergency procedures

Leo’s canopy after the cutaway
Photo by Dennis Sattler

Bottom line…

It took a while to decompress after landing and for what had happened to really sink in. A bunch of high fives, congratulations and an occasional very welcomed hug later it started to click. Aside from some self-reflection and pondering mortality, I understood what it meant to suggest that we make these decisions on the ground.

Through AFF we train to identify what conditions should prompt us to initiate emergency procedures. In essence, making the decision on the ground. We compliment this by practicing emergency procedures in order to build muscle memory so that when such conditions arise, we act decisively and effectively. The response happened instinctively and the follow through was as I had practiced.

Bottom line… it worked.

Of course, not all situations are so obvious and resolving them so clear cut, but there’s a reason why we train as we do and to me, the mindset keeping me from getting complacent was everything. There’s a lot I would like to say about my love for skydiving and the notion of this “Culture of Safety”. Some other time, for now, I’ll summarize it this way…

I’m grateful for the opportunity to share the sky we borrow and play in with you and it’s with that spirit that I own my share of the responsibility to nurture a culture of safety for myself and others so that we may all continue to play.

Landing in Perridise 🙂
Photo by Julian Davis
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Meet: Leo

Leo is a baby skydiver, eager to take his new passion as far as he can. He jumps at Skydive Perris, California.

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