Rating Corner | A Wake-Up Call
By Jim Crouch
Last August, two tandem double fatalities occurred just a week apart. The details for both of those tragic accidents can be found in “Incident Reports” in this issue of Parachutist. While the casual observer may not see a correlation between the two accidents, they should be a flashing neon warning sign that screams for every tandem examiner, Safety and Training Advisor and drop zone operator to regularly review staff members’ tandem procedures. These two accidents are the outcome of a series of errors and failures— in what is hopefully just a small segment of the tandem industry—that were allowed to continue for years.
• Received poor initial training that included very little emphasis on tandem emergency procedures.
• Received corrective retraining but reverted back to making the same mistakes.
• Routinely performed unstable exits, which went uncorrected for years.
• Focused on capturing hand-mounted- video footage instead of on their tandem procedures.
• Never completed handle checks.
• Worked for multiple drop zones, all of which allowed them to perform tandem jumps while making repeated mistakes (including violations of the Basic Safety Requirement to perform handle checks on every tandem skydive) and never stepped in to correct the errors.
Although USPA discovered the training deficiencies of some instructors only in August 2016, when the misconduct of an examiner came to light, the tandem industry has recognized and tried to correct the other issues over the past decade or so. Ten years ago, United Parachute Technologies began requiring all UPT Tandem Examiners to attend standardization meetings. USPA and the other tandem manufacturers also participated in the meetings, and begin- ning in 2017, USPA took over hosting them. They are now a requirement for every USPA Tandem IE, regardless of the tandem equip- ment type. All of the standardization meetings have included discussions on the types of errors listed above.
Instructor examiners are supposed to train and evaluate all tandem instructors on performing correct tandem procedures, including stable exits into the relative wind, handle checks on every tandem skydive and correctly performing emergency procedures.
None of this is new information for instructors or examiners. Each tandem rating course covers the information, and examiners discuss it at each examiner standardization meeting, yet no examiner or fellow instructor did anything to correct the two instructors’ procedures. All Safety and Training Advisors know the USPA Basic Safety Requirements and must require USPA members to adhere to them, but no S&TA stepped in to correct the BSR violations these two instructors were making. Each drop zone owner is responsible for ensuring their staff members follow procedures, including adhering to the BSRs, yet no DZO corrected these instructors’ tandem procedures.
Overall, tandem skydiving enjoys a remarkable safety record. However, a seemingly small part of the tandem industry is making mistakes or allowing them to continue. The only acceptable tandem skydive is one that is performed using the standard procedures outlined by the tandem manufacturers and USPA: a stable exit into the relative wind, drogue deployment after establishing stability, a deliberate system- handles check, drogue release no lower than 4,500 feet, a post-deployment canopy check and a safe canopy descent to landing. If a tandem instructor is not meeting these standards, it is up to everyone involved to see that the instructor is retrained or grounded for further disciplinary action. It is up to the tandem instructors, tandem instructor examiners, Safety and Training Advisors and drop zone owners to insist that every tandem skydive meets the industry standard. Our tandem students expect nothing less.