Despite all the advances in tandem skydiving, the increasing use of handcams by unqualified and underprepared tandem instructors is threatening to demolish the discipline’s improving safety record, the product of a 30-year collective safety effort by the tandem manufacturers and USPA. An ever-increasing number of tandem accidents are attributable to the use of handcams, either as a direct or indirect cause. Sadly, the mistakes leading to these accidents are easy to see in high-definition video, as the tandem instructors continue filming with a straight left arm even as the world around them is going to hell.
Remember: You are a tandem instructor first; you are a tandem instructor second; you are a tandem instructor third and fourth and fifth! The handcam should come into the equation somewhere around priority number eight or nine. A lot of instructors don’t seem to realize this, as YouTube is full of videos of handcam-equipped tandem instructors who are too busy focusing on being a videographer and completely failing in their duties as instructors. The videos of these failures—
all caused by the instructor focusing on the handcam—show lack of gear checks before exit, poor setups in the door, unstable exits followed by drogue throws as the tandem pair rolls around to a face-to-earth position, lack of drogue checks and lack of handles checks. Some of these jumps even ended in reserve rides after the jumpers’ automatic activation devices fired.
Perhaps just as culpable as the tandem instructors are the drop zone owners and Safety and Training Advisors who allow these types of tandem skydives to continue at their drop zones. And this problem is not unique to the U.S.; it happens all over the world. The industry trend toward putting the focus on handcam video needs to stop immediately, and tandem instructors need to focus on the task of tandem skydiving. How hard is it to set up in the door, check handles, exit facing into the relative wind in a stable position, throw the drogue, check the drogue, perform a system-handles check and pull the drogue release at the correct altitude followed by a post-deployment check? Instructors can easily accomplish all this while using a handcam.
The good news is that it is an easy fix. All tandem instructors simply need to apply the lessons learned in their tandem courses and apply them on every tandem skydive. The bad news is that this will likely not happen voluntarily, and that will lead to tandem rating suspensions and revocations. The tandem instructors, DZOs and S&TAs at every drop zone using handcams need to sit down together and make sure all tandems are conducted with standard procedures that have proven to keep tandem skydiving as safe as possible. If not, we will continue to see unnecessary accidents, and that will most likely generate heavy-handed regulations from USPA, the manufacturers and the Federal Aviation Administration. Nobody wants to see that happen, so do your job, tandem instructors.
Jim Crouch | D-16979
USPA Director of Safety & Training