By Albert Berchtold
Thursday, April 1, 2021
It’s bittersweet—almost painful—to suggest that it was a good thing that only 11 fatalities occurred in the U.S. in 2020. Although it’s the lowest total since record keeping began, each one of those lost is a tragedy. In the hopes that those 11 jumpers’ final acts will not be in vain and may help educate all of us, we’ll dissect the data in the Annual Fatality Summary in this issue. May those unfortunate jumpers’ experiences help save lives in the future.
Someone once explained skydiving’s fatality rate and its relative consistency by saying, “We have a fatality rate we are comfortable with.” They explained that as our sport has gotten safer through technological advancements, we have found new and unconsidered ways to outdo those advancements and still go beyond our limits. While it’s an interesting approach to the numbers, it’s definitely not the drum I’ll be beating. I believe that when all of us not only realize that we could be next, but also have our daily actions at the DZ embody that mindset, is the day we stand a chance at a year with zero fatalities in our sport. Aim small, miss small.
Our revitalized incident reporting system has helped. USPA is now better able to quickly identify trends and help educate the community by proving reminders of what mistakes our fellow jumpers made and what areas we may be getting a little lax about. The friendly reminders are data-driven, so please keep an eye out for them. And when something happens to you, please complete a non-fatal incident report at uspa.org/ir to help us gather that data so we know where to focus our assistance.
We all read the articles, watch videos and listen in person as the heroes of the sport do their best to tell us what many already know but sometimes need reminders about: Complacency kills. Don’t forget your gear checks. Practice your emergency procedures. Stay current. They’re beating the drum, providing short one-liners to lead us toward behavioral change. Is there someone at your DZ holding regular emergency-procedure refreshers? Are you performing regular gear checks in the boarding area? If not, maybe you could be that hero who leads the charge at your DZ. Don’t wait for the unfortunate accident to drive change.
A few years ago, I visited a DZ that was new to me. As I do at every DZ when I arrive, I looked up to watch the locals fly and land. (What can I say, I love parachutes.) But something was different. I was amazed. They created vertical and horizonal spacing between each other. They all flew predictable landing patterns, better than I had ever seen. So, I watched the next load and the one after. All the same. It was like clockwork. I asked how they did it. The answer: “Culture.” They made it cool to fly predictable, safe patterns. When someone didn’t follow the pattern because they didn’t know how, the community helped that person learn. If someone didn’t follow the pattern because they thought it would be cool to be a rebel, the community let them know that wasn’t the way to be cool there.
Hopefully, you were able to participate in your DZ’s Safety Day last month. And hopefully, you were able to come up with some great ideas on how you can be safer in your skydiving activities. But remember, you don’t alter behavior with one day of seminars. Repetition changes behavior. If everyone is diligent and heading in the same direction, you’ll have a culture of safety at your DZ. Whether you’re an instructor, competitive skydiver or weekend warrior, we all have to do our part. If we’re going to get to zero, we all have to take proactive steps to aim for it. Every day.