Safety Check | Learning from the Past
by Jim Crouch
Harry S. Truman once said, “There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know.” This quote (and many others like it) warns us all that we must know our history to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. It comes as no surprise that this also applies directly to skydiving.
Unfortunately, many fatal and non-fatal skydiving accidents are nothing new. What is new is the group of approximately 5,000 new jumpers who enter our sport each year. With a constant flow of new skydivers replacing a nearly equal number who retire from the sport, it does not take long to cycle through a sizable percentage of the jumping population. While there are always a few jumpers who have been around the block, if you look around your hangar on an average Saturday, you will notice that the vast majority of licensed jumpers have been at it for fewer than five years.
USPA continually looks to identify recurring safety errors and develop information and procedures to prevent others from repeating those mistakes. For example, USPA noticed a rise in canopy accidents, so for the past 20 years, it emphasized improving skydivers’ knowledge and skills regarding canopy flight. Improvements didn’t happen overnight, but over time the number of fatal and non-fatal canopy accidents dropped significantly. And when the number of canopy collisions began to rise in 2007, USPA began requiring drop zones to separate high-performance canopy pilots from slower canopy traffic, and now it is rare to hear of a fatal canopy collision below 1,000 feet.
Another type of fatal accident that used to be common and now seems to occur only every four or five years is a jumper inducing a spinning line twist just before landing. A hard toggle turn is all it takes to create the malfunction: The parachute turns faster than the jumper’s body can follow, which causes the suspension lines to twist and trap the pulled-down steering line between them. If a jumper induces this malfunction below 1,000 feet, they will have no time or altitude to take any action and will strike the ground in just a few seconds.
In 2000, USPA addressed this jumper-induced malfunction with the introduction of the Integrated Student Program, which covers rapid reverse turns in Category G. USPA added this section to help new jumpers understand that there are limits to how quickly they can safely initiate a turn with a steering toggle under any parachute. Every jumper who receives an A license should receive this valuable information and training. If you never learned why these drills are required, didn’t receive the training or have forgotten what you’ve learned, go back and review that section of the ISP. It’s in there for a reason.
USPA continues to work toward eliminating as many skydiving fatalities and injuries as possible. Through better training, education and learning more about how to avoid the mistakes from the past, skydivers can be better prepared to avoid them. After all, it is very rare to encounter something new, and knowing a little history might just save your life.
Jim Crouch | D-16979
USPA Director of Safety & Training