This article by the inimitable Bryan Burke (S&TA at SDAZ) is almost a year old. Sadly Bryan could update it with two new incidents just in the last couple of weeks (the recent fatality in Lodi and a serious injury in Australia), let alone in the last several months.
Staying alive in this sport isn’t just about having all the best and newest safety equipment. It’s not just about taking care of your gear and understanding it fully. It’s not just about jumping an appropriate wing loading/canopy type for your skills & experience.
It’s about knowing who you’re jumping with. It’s about planning the dive and diving the plan. I’ll say that again for emphasis. It’s about planning the dive and diving the plan. Planning also means knowing when to say “when” and when to walk away or pare it down. Shit show jumps can be funny and make for great video and photos… until they’re not.
People who know me as an organizer know that I’ll usually keep my jumps to 8 or fewer, because there’s generally a mix of experience levels on the group and I want to keep things safe for everyone (and most of all, safe for me!). I also know my own limitations as an organizer – I’m still new to this and would rather keep the variables limited.
I’ve been on my share of sketchy jumps that got too big too fast. I’ve been on my share of poorly planned jumps that, predictably, got really chaotic really fast. But it’s been a long time. The longer I stay in the sport, the smaller my average jump gets.
I’ve never been much into tracking jumps and haven’t done one in years; last one I was on was big (formation load), chaotic, and ended with one of the closest calls I’ve ever had in the pattern. Not for me. But I know a lot of people are into them, and those who are would do well to read Bryan’s words above. Because if you think it can’t happen to you, think again.
I also have selfish reasons to ask people to read this because even though I probably won’t be on your tracking dive, I might be on the load with you. I want you to understand flight planning and navigation on angle dives and how it impacts not just you and your group but everyone on the load. I want you to understand the importance of communicating with others on your load so that you exit in the right point in the exit order, and fly in a way that ensures adequate exit separation.
Just a few weeks ago, I opened up, turned off jump run, was surprised to see the “three-way belly” group that left behind me opening straight ahead of me instead of farther along jump run where I expected them. A tracking group is not a belly group and shouldn’t be in the middle of the exit order, and if you don’t understand the reasons behind that, you probably ought not to be leading a tracking group yet. All ended well that time, but we had a chat about it on the ground.
If you hop on a potential shit show jumps and think “I’m cool, I have an AAD” please sit the fuck down and think again. For one thing, an AAD only takes you from guaranteed death to possible survival (and if you do survive, it’s very likely you’ll be broken). But more importantly, what kind of judgment are you exercising? It’d be like hopping in your car and saying “I know I need my brake pads replaced and it’s raining today, but I’ve got airbags!”
Don’t get me wrong, I think AADs are awesome and I would strongly, emphatically recommend them to anyone who asks. Things can go badly even on a small, well-planned jump that’s appropriate for the skill and experience of the people on the jump. But AADs are not a substitute for good judgement and good choices.
(Paraphrased from a recent Facebook rant by yours truly).