Wingsuit Collisions

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Article by Matt Gerdes, with co-author Flavien Mazzon

A beautiful wingsuit jump with friends – don’t let it end in tragedy on break-off
Photo by Flavien Mazzon

By paying attention to breaking off, and clearing our turns, we can minimize the risk of a collision in a wingsuit

Recently a friend of ours suffered serious injuries as a result of a wingsuit collision during break-off, at the end of the jump. He was knocked unconscious and is lucky to be alive. An analysis of two video angles didn’t lead to anyone I know, including myself, to point to a big mistake. A lot of us sort of shrugged and said, “Jeez, that could have been me”.

Sometimes a serious accident happens and experienced people in the sport sort of shake their heads and say, “It’s just one of those things”. When you hear someone make a comment like that, I think what is meant is that it’s really hard to be safe all of the time. It’s difficult to maintain a level of vigilance that will keep you out of every situation that could result in an accident. This difficulty stems directly from two facts: humans are imperfect, and we jump to have fun.

It’s really hard to be safe all of the time

When we’re having fun, we’re playing. Playtime is not like work-time and it never has been, not since we were kids. Being hyper-vigilant feels like work, not like play. So, it’s not surprising to me when we make small lapses in judgment on a skydive or we don’t execute a 20-point checklist to land safely on every single one of our hundreds or thousands of jumps – that would be way less fun.

Most of the time, we get away with it. When we’re flying wingsuits, two pilots in the same formation can reach closing speeds of nearly 200mph in just a few seconds. Think of one pilot diving and flaring into another pilot who is diving to flare at the same time… within five seconds of breakoff, those two pilots who were flying wing-to-wing could be colliding with greater than 200mph closing speed, which is nearly certain death. But again, most of the time we get away with it because the sky is big, and we are small.


So, is there a lesson to learn from my friend’s near-death wingsuit jump? After thinking about it a bit more, and getting feedback on the wingsuit curriculum that we teach from, I think we need to add something to it; we often have the tendency to remain focused on the lead (base) flyer during break-off. This, I believe, is a mistake. We need to talk more about clearing our turns.

A large WS formation demands vigilance at break-off, to avoid collisions
Photo by Flavien Mazzon


It’s now conventional wisdom that break-off needs to happen in a coordinated fashion with the outermost pilots turning away from the formation the most, and the pilots closest to the center turning away from the lead, the least. The lead should continue flying straight ahead until pull time. We have also now mostly managed to convince most pilots that diving to a flare before deployment is a great way to kill yourself and your friends, although we still see some people do this on formation loads (we wish they would stop).

Break-off is not the time for extra play
Photo by Flavien Mazzon

Break-off steps:

  1. Lead pilot gives the break-off signal at a predetermined altitude.
  2. Outermost pilots turn away, usually at about 60 degrees to line of flight. If you’re on the outside of the formation on the right side, you turn right about 60 degrees and never more than 90 degrees.
  3. Pilots closer to the center of the formation turn away at about 45 degrees. For example, pilots nearer to the center of the formation on the right side of the formation centerline, turn right 45 degrees.
  4. The centermost pilots turn away at about 30 degrees, either left or right depending on what side of the centerline they are on. The formation centerline is determined during the mock-up / dirtdive.
  5. NO-ONE DIVES, NO-ONE FLARES. Pilots continue the speed and angle of the formation jump from break-off until deployment.
  6. Everyone watches out for traffic; tandems, students, high-pullers, and any other groups from the same load or other loads.
  7. Everyone in the formation opens their parachute in the predetermined area which was wisely chosen with wind and traffic in mind.

Sheesh, a minimum of seven things to think about, just at break-off. And now we need to add a few more…

Be predictable: on break-off –– change speed and direction progressively
Photo by Flavien Mazzon

Be predictable!

This is common knowledge while flying a canopy but it is somewhat overlooked during a break-off. Unlike freefly where you have a lot of vertical speed and not much time, wingsuit jumps allow you to take your time on break-off. Take it. Initiate your turn slowly, you will be less likely to surprise your friends – and surprises are the last thing you want during a break-off. Make your turn mellow (not banked), and make it a descending turn. It should be a descending turn because we can’t see ‘up’ (relative to the formation) so a climbing turn (relative to the formation) means flying into our blind spot (more on that in a moment).

On breakoff make a slow descending turn relative to the formation, looking before you turn
Photo by Flavien Mazzon

Clear your turn!

That means: look where you go! Good formation flying means being focused on the lead, and the pilots nearest to your slot. This is a habit that most wingsuiters adopt after a few dozen formation loads. Because focusing on the lead pilot results in fun jumps and happy people, and has a satisfying result, it is an easy habit to maintain!

However, this good habit becomes a bad one the moment break-off occurs. Now we need a different good habit, which is the opposite of the first — we need to look away from the base and our neighbors, and clear our turn while maintaining an awareness of the whole formation. Once the lead pilot initiates break-off with their signal, clearing our turn means that we need to look where we are going before we go there. If you’re on the left side of the formation, you need to look left-up, left-down, left-behind, and left-ahead. It is important to remember that we have a huge blind spot when we turn.

The Blind Spot – another pilot just above and close
Photo by Flavien Mazzon

Mind the blind spot!

Our eyeballs are located on the wrong side of our skulls when we make a flare or a banked turn in a wingsuit. This is what led to the accident I referred to at the beginning of this article – our friend made a left ‘climbing’ turn and hit a pilot that he would not have been able to see, even if he turned his head slightly left. It is necessary to really crane your neck if you want to do a decent job, and doing so feels a lot like ‘work’ after we’ve been playing on a really fun jump. And it’s fun to make a steep banked turn. It feels like work to make a flat mellow turn while looking in the turn direction… but this is a moment on the jump where we need to increase our vigilance and let a little fun go.

The importance of all those elements is high even if you’re on a 2-way, because at break-off the chance of being near tandems, students, and other groups is high. That said, if you are on a 2-way jump, it’s very easy to know where the whole formation is – you need only locate your partner. If it’s a 3-way, then I hope you can keep track of two jumpers. When it becomes a 4-way, I start to be less certain that I can know where every person on the jump is, all of the time. This is when wingsuit jumps start to become dangerous, and a level of trust in those around you becomes necessary. Once it becomes a 10-way, organization and pilot qualifications need to be taken quite seriously.


The 20+ year-old sport of wingsuiting has evolved a lot and we’re in a pretty good place. There is lots of information available on flying safely. It’s my hope that we can continue to add to the lexicon and update our practices. Much of what we taught ten years ago may expire as technique improves and lessons are learned. Thanks to those of you who are working to keep curriculums fresh and relevant!

Article by Matt Gerdes, with co-author, photographer and inspiration, Flavien Mazzon

Matt Gerdes

Matt Gerdes Squirrel

Matt Gerdes logged over 1,200 safe BASE jumps (mostly wingsuit flights in the Alps, where he opened a few new lines). He is the author of the BASE Book. Matt podiumed at Red Bull Aces 2015, finished top five in 2016, was 2016 WOWS Distance champion and 3rd in Speed. He is the co-founder of SQRL equipment, Next Level Flight, and is an FAA rated pilot.

Flavien Mazzon

Flavien Mazzon is a French skydiver with around 2,000 jumps, who has been flying wingsuit for more than a decade. He works full-time as a wingsuit coach mainly in the wingsuit tunnel and sometimes at French and Swedish dropzones. Flavien is part of the French National Team with whom he became European Champion in Wingsuit Performance 2023.

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Meet: Matt Gerdes

Matt logged over 1200 safe BASE jumps (mostly wingsuit flights in the Alps, where he opened a few new lines). He is the author of the BASE Book. Matt podiumed at Red Bull Aces 2015, finished top five in 2016, was 2016 WOWS Distance champion and 3rd in Speed. He is the co-founder of SQRL equipment (www.squirrel.ws), Next Level Flight (www.nextlevel.ws), and is a FAA rated pilot.

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