Safety Check | Sound Judgment
By Ron Bell
Often, USPA receives incident reports that describe a chain of bad decisions that led to an injury. Many of these reports recount instances where a jumper spent far too long working on something that felt fixable but wasn’t. So, it is refreshing to receive a report that ends with the words, “I stayed altitude aware, trusted my training and had a safe, smooth landing.” The following report, submitted by Chris Thomas, ends just that way and has a lot of lessons to teach. (Ordinarily, USPA redacts names, dates and locations when publishing incident reports, but we made an exception here, with the permission of all parties involved.)
“Upon deployment after a successful formation skydive, one of the rubber bands snapped and stuck to my lines. When the slider came down, it locked the rubber band around my A lines. While my brakes were stowed, there was only a very slow, almost unnoticeable, left turn. Upon releasing the brakes, there was a much quicker, steadier turn. I was able to stabilize the turn with slight right toggle input, and I tried to clear the lines by flaring.
“While it may have been completely possible for me to land the malfunction the way it was, I could neither identify what it was nor clear it, and I didn’t know if it would get worse. I did not want the malfunction to complicate when I was closer to the ground. I steered back toward the drop zone and began to initiate my emergency procedures above my planned cutaway decision altitude of 2,500 feet. Before I could begin my EPs, the turn started again, and I corrected back toward the DZ and initiated my EPs faster. Before I knew it, I was under a beautiful white canopy flying stable. I performed a controllability check and did a few practice flares, entered the pattern and stood up my first reserve ride. … I was fortunately able to hold on to both of my handles and stow them in jumpsuit for the reserve ride down. I attribute this to still practicing my EPs at least three times before each jump (after gearing up, at the loading area and before leaving the plane), but I knew nobody would think less of me if I tossed them.
“My biggest takeaway from having a low-speed mal is that it almost gives you too much time to think. If I had a high-speed mal, I would’ve initiated EPs almost immediately. During the low-speed mal, I found myself debating whether or not I could clear it, then whether or not I could land it, how I just had my reserve repacked 10 days earlier ... and finally how S&TA Brian Touhey would kill me if I landed it.
“Obviously, I bought beer for everyone on the DZ that day. I also found myself on the beer board at my home DZ (1,400 miles away) within 30 minutes of the malfunction, a true testament to efficient skydiver communication. My rigger enjoyed a bottle of Milagro in addition to a second repack in less than two weeks. In the end, I stayed altitude aware, trusted my training and had a safe, smooth landing.”
This well-written incident report shows a jumper displaying sound judgment and making intelligent, well-thought-out decisions. It also shows the importance of maintaining your rubber bands. Rubber bands have been the culprit in many malfunctions, most notably bag locks, line dumps and hard openings. This incident adds tension knots to the list of malfunctions that these elastic bands can cause. Packing is the most suitable time to inspect elastic bands, but packers are often in a hurry and perform only cursory inspections, replacing just broken bands. To avoid problems, packers should follow manufacturers’ recommendations for stow-band replacement, which usually means replacing any worn bands that are likely to break during the jump.
It seemed fitting to start 2021 with a “Safety Check” highlighting an excellent example of an incident report. We hope this encourages others to submit equally thorough and useful reports throughout this new year.
Ron Bell | D-26863
USPA Director of Safety and Training