As skydivers who want to skydive again (and again, and again…), we tend to pay attention to the highest risk areas for our skydives to make them as safe as possible. We learn as students how to fly and land our parachutes safely, and we take canopy courses to get even better at it. We learn stable body positions for deployment, how to maneuver safely around other skydivers, how to determine the safest exit order for a plane full of skydivers, and how to find out how much time we should leave between groups to avoid freefall and deployment collisions. We also learn how to separate from other jumpers at breakoff to clear our airspace and safely deploy our parachutes.
Yet it seems the last item–breakoff and tracking–is becoming more and more neglected. For example, in a recent month at Spaceland Houston, we saw no less than five freefall near misses on breakoff from angle and tracking dives, one actual canopy strike by a jumper still in freefall, and numerous other close calls between jumpers in the same group as they deployed their parachutes (and those are only the ones I heard about). Some of these issues involved relatively inexperienced jumpers, while others involved highly experienced jumpers; thankfully, no one was hurt.
What’s happening? Is Mercury in retrograde? Are we teaching the wrong information? No and no. The simple fact is that as fun-loving humans, we tend to focus on all the cool stuff we want to do during our freefall much more than on the somehow less exciting time-to-save-your-life part at the end. But if we don’t start paying more attention to that save-your-life-part, there may not be another opportunity for the fun parts. Let’s work on creating safe breakoff scenarios so we don’t put ourselves in needlessly dangerous situations, and keep ourselves and our friends out of the incident reports.
Over the next few weeks, look for a series of articles on different safety aspects of breakoff and tracking, starting with this updated article on planning breakoff and tracking.