Safety Check | Guarding Against Hard Openings
By Ron Bell
A main parachute that opens quickly and hard can be extremely dangerous. A hard opening can break suspension lines, tear canopy fabric, and injure, kill or incapacitate the jumper. Since 1999, hard openings of main and reserve parachutes have caused 18 fatal accidents, two of which occurred in 2019 and are described in this month’s “Incident Reports.”
Hard openings can occur under any parachute and are usually the result of packing errors. The pack job itself, placement of the slider in the pack job, control of the parachute while it is placed in the deployment bag and the method and type of line stows all have a significant effect on the speed of the opening. The size, type and condition of the pilot chute can also have an influence. Jumpers need to take time when packing so they don’t miss any crucial steps, refresh themselves on proper packing techniques by consulting their manufacturers and speak with their riggers or Safety and Training Advisors if they experience hard openings.
Nice, soft, on-heading openings also require jumpers to slow down for deployment and deploy in the correct body position. For more information on how to use body position to achieve the best possible openings, see “Jockeying for Position” by Annette O’Neil in the June 2019 issue of Parachutist (available under the Archives tab at parachutistonline.com). In the article, Performance Designs Vice President John LeBlanc discusses proven strategies that he has developed in the field over several decades.
Occasionally, a jumper will experience a hard opening that is difficult to explain. The Parachute Industry Association Technical Committee is investigating the phenomenon, and USPA is assisting in the effort by providing data that it has gathered over the years on incidents involving hard openings. Currently, the committee is focusing on stow bands: stow-band quality, what type of stow band works best for each application, the effects of line dump, how the length of each line bight can affect a parachute’s opening, when double stowing is advisable, amount of retention force required to prevent line dump and more. As soon as the committee has finished its study and come to conclusions, we’ll share it with our membership.
Ron Bell | D-26863
USPA Director of Safety and Training