The Chest Strap

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The scariest jump Kate Cooper Jensen’s ever been on!

What’s wrong with this B Launch ?
Image, screenshot from Gary Haass’s video

It was the seventh jump of the day on our newly formed and as yet unnamed 4-way FS team. A normal training jump on a normal training day.

It was the scariest jump I’ve ever been on.

I check gear. All the time. I find things. Incorrectly assembled. Three rings, unhooked or misrouted RSL lanyards, visors up on exit. And I check chest straps. I’ve caught tons of them – misrouted and dangling. In the loading area and on the airplane. I missed this one.

Our team is experienced. 40,000 jumps between the five of us, over a hundred years of skydiving experience, three current AFF instructors. And we all nmissed the chest strap.

We were on a back-to-back jump — returning from one jump, dropping unpacked canopies, picking up freshly packed rigs, doing a quick door jam and running to the plane. And we missed the chest strap.

Our coach watched us do the final walk-through, and she missed the chest strap.

We walked past an experienced loader, fist-bumping him on the way to board the aircraft. And he missed the chest strap.

The plane was full, we were in the tail. At 1,500 feet two people got up off the bench and settled down to the floor — and everyone on the plane missed the chest strap.

The exit was a B — a stairstep diamond, good visibility from all persons. We exited from 10,500ft, so we had plenty of time to set up the exit and make sure we were solid — and we missed the chest strap.

We launched the B and quickly moved to the next point, 19, a block, and turned the pieces. When we closed the 19 and moved to the 7 (the next block) I saw Carsten sidebodied on Amy and sliding away — something wasn’t right.

Carsten’s words:

I saw something was wrong when we transitioned from the exit to the block but wasn’t sure what it was. Once I realized it was a loose chest strap I stopped turning points and got Amy’s attention. I grabbed the chest strap and handed it to her — the rest was up to her.

Then I saw the chest strap. We all saw the chest strap. On the fourth point of a skydive.

Amy got down to the business of threading her chest strap, Piya docked on her leg to help stabilize her and keep her from sliding. Carsten and I watched helplessly, Gary videoed.

Amy threading her chest strap in freefall, gripped by teammate Piya to help her stability
Image, screenshot from Gary Haass’s video

At about 5,000 feet Amy signaled a thumbs up to all of us — she had managed to correctly thread the chest strap — no mean feat in freefall. She then made a short track off and deployed normally.


I saw that the chest strap was not attached when I was about 10 feet out the door. While I was considering dropping down to assist, Carsten saw it as well. Due to the limitations of wearing my camera wings, I decided to stay out of the way, as Carsten had shown Amy that the strap was undone. Once she acknowledged, her immediate response was to try to re-fasten the strap, but not flipping over onto her back, due to rapid loss of altitude. Fastening the strap did cause her to fall much faster, at which time Piya dropped down to assist, in an AFF-jumpmaster sort of way. Once I saw that she had re-fastened the strap, I pulled at around 5,000 feet and she pulled at four.

We landed together — Gary and Amy a bit father away from the rest of the team — and gave each other hugs. I had tears in my eyes. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?!


We had just turned our first point on training jump 7 of the day. My piece partner stops flying and is fooling with my jumpsuit! OH SHIT! – as I grabbed my flailing chest strap from my teammate. I just might have killed myself! I did this! I better figure this out real fast – thankfully he noticed quickly I was flying without a connected chest strap! And started trying to fix it. I realized I’d better stay calm and first try to thread it myself. Or maybe tie a half hitch knot if I only get thru part of the clasp. If I couldn’t thread it by deployment time I’d sit up while pitching the pilot chute and cross grip my harness while staying as symmetrical as possible. I have a very finicky canopy that spins up if I don’t deploy with body level. I had a lot of time yet, we jumped from 10,500ft. As I crossed the strap to the connector I rolled a bit off axis, I considered continuing to roll to my back and continue threading with less airflow. I’m comfortable backflying and I could stay big to not fall so much faster…. but I thought it better to just stay on my belly and continue stably and predictably. By now another teammate, an AFF Examiner, gripped me to watch and maybe help. I was VERY happy that I have a weird quirk to cut off my gloves’ thumb & pointer fingertip so I can put my earplugs in and stow brakes! I was able to feel, see and get it threaded by 4,000 feet – barely! Having not gloved fingers was significant. I can’t even remember what I did next. I think I gave a thumbs-up to the teammie gripping me then tracked as my audible sounded at 3,500 feet. I deployed as soon as I saw I was clear of the rest of the team so they could see I was ok.

 I am extremely embarrassed, humbled, self-humiliated.  I’ve been in the sport 35 years. I’m an AFF and Tandem Instructor, 8,000 jumps, current! I am a professional, highly educated in risk aversion, distraction management, consequences of complacency and the necessity of standard operating procedures. I am still human above all. I am writing and publicizing in the hope to encourage EVERYONE to go the extra effort of gear checking yourself and your buddies on the airplane.

I had a nice landing in the grass on some really shaky legs! This situation could have had significantly different outcome!

Complacency kills. We hear these words over and over — but they don’t apply to us, right? We’re experienced. We’re old dogs. We’ve got this game down. Yeah.


Contributory Factors and Takeaways

  1. We were in a hurry. A back-to-back. Zero excuse but it happens.
    *There is ALWAYS time for a gear check — personally and on others before loading a plane.
  2. The plane was full. We were crammed into the tail. Zero excuse but it happens.
    *Be aware of your own gear and others especially in tight or cramped conditions — it’s easy to have flaps open or have handles dislodged while moving from bench to floor and back up again. Even in a tightly packed airplane there is time and room for a gear check before exit.
  3. Develop a routine (ritual, backstop, pattern — call it what you will) in your gear donning and inspection.
     *Always put your gear on in a specific order and keep to that order. Add a visual and/or tactile inspection into that order. Adhere to the pattern and don’t break it.
  4. IF the worst happens — there is a gear issue in freefall — don’t panic.
     *Let the person know of the equipment problem. If applicable then one person can help with stabilization. The others should stay in a place where they can monitor and not be in the way. Respect the normal break-off and pull altitudes.
  5. Remember you still need to deploy safely and land your canopy safely.
     *Emotions and adrenaline can affect your decision-making and mental timeline. Have a safe track off and landing. Allow the affected person to deploy in place if it is safe to do so.
  6. Debrief the situation in a quiet and non-judgmental way. Make a decision about further jumping during the day if applicable.
     *If more jumping is to be done make sure not only the person who had the gear issue is mentally ready to continue but also the others. In our case we made three more jumps during the day
  7. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to share the story — knowledge is power.
     *Since sharing this incident I’ve had several very high profile jumpers confidentially tell me that they have also had chest straps misrouted or loose but were embarrassed to share the stories.


We are a tribe — and as such we are ALL responsible for ourselves and those around us. Do not allow complacency to step in. ALWAYS do your own gear checks and be vigilant about checking those around you. Three-rings, RSL lanyards and chest straps are items that can be visually checked both on yourself and on others. Be the person who checks. Be the one who catches the chest strap.

 This article originally appeared in ‘Tales from the Bonfire’ in the March 2017 issue of Parachutist, the official publication of the U.S. Parachute Association. It is reprinted here with permission.

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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, Kiss, L&B altimeters and Vigil.

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