With jumpers taking more extended layoffs than typical due to COVID-19 shutdowns, lack of currency became a leading contributor to fatal and non-fatal incidents—many of which were landing accidents—this summer. Landing well and consistently takes skill, and this skill will deteriorate over time if a jumper is not consistently using it. To avoid injury after a layoff, jumpers must slowly build their skills back up before jumping in more challenging conditions.
A jumper with 320 jumps and 10 years in the sport exited a Beechcraft King Air B200 at 7,000 feet above ground level on a clear day with light (10 mph) ground winds. This jumper had made 35 jumps in the past year, and this jump was his second in 30 days. This was also his first at this drop zone, which has a ground elevation of approximately 5,000 feet mean sea level. The report did not state whether he had a DZ briefing before his jump.
The jumper was flying a Big Air Sportz Samurai 120 at a wing loading of 1.5:1. Following an uneventful freefall and initial canopy descent, he made a lower-than-normal turn to final approach and did not get the expected input from the flare. The jumper landed hard, spraining his left ankle and breaking his left fibula and right toe.
Although this jumper had 10 years in the sport, he averaged only 32 jumps a year, and his lack of currency was likely a major contributing factor to this incident. The wing loading of his canopy was also very high for someone with only 320 jumps, let alone someone with such a low per-year average. It is likely that he was fully capable of landing the canopy safely in perfect conditions, but when conditions turned south (as they eventually do), he was unable to manage his workload and recover from the low turn.
Thorough DZ briefings are vital for visiting jumpers to understand the environment when jumping at a new DZ. This is especially true when currency compounds the hurdles. It is unknown whether this jumper received a DZ briefing prior to his jump or whether that briefing contained information on the effect of high field altitudes on canopy flight. Although the report didn’t say whether the jumper’s home drop zone was at a similar altitude, it is possible that density altitude was a contributing factor to this incident.
This jumper, who had 238 jumps and two years in the sport, exited a Cessna 208 Caravan on a clear day with light (5-10 mph) ground winds. He was flying a NZ Aerosports Crossfire 129 canopy at a wing loading of 1.8:1. The jumper’s exit, freefall and initial canopy flight were uneventful. For an unknown reason, the jumper chose not to land in the main landing area but instead in the alternate, high-performance landing area that was immediately adjacent to a parking lot. According to the jumper’s statement after the incident, he started his final approach too high and feared overshooting the grass landing area and striking parked cars, so he made a low turn. In addition to the low turn, he dropped a toggle while flaring his canopy for landing and hit the ground hard, breaking his right ankle.
This jumper was under a wing that was far too small for his relatively low experience level. Neither the drop zone owner nor the Safety and Training Advisor—both highly experienced canopy pilots—knew how long he had been jumping this canopy but stated that he had not sought their advice. This was also this DZ’s second weekend of operating following COVID-19 lockdowns, so it is unlikely that the jumper was very current. His inexperience under a high-performance wing combined with poor landing-pattern planning and execution were the major contributing factors to this incident.
A tandem pair exited a Cessna 182 on a clear day with ground winds that were light but varied in direction and speed. The instructor had 2,000 jumps and 50 in the last 30 days, most of which were tandems. The pair’s droguefall and the initial canopy descent were uneventful, but the instructor misjudged the landing-approach angle in the changing winds and overshot the landing area. The pair landed near power lines, and when the pair came to a full stop, the drogue draped over the power lines. The tandem instructor quickly disconnected the student and removed the rig. Neither the instructor nor the student suffered any injuries, and the power lines were not damaged.
Changing wind conditions can make landings technically challenging. These conditions require constant monitoring of wind indicators on the ground to improve landing accuracy.
This jumper, who had 100 jumps in an unreported amount of time, exited a PAC-750 at an unreported attitude. She was jumping at an unfamiliar DZ with a landing area that was smaller than she was used to, and winds were a gusty 14 mph on the ground. The jumper had an uneventful exit, freefall and initial canopy flight but encountered problems on landing. After apparently flying a wide landing pattern, the jumper landed downwind of trees and likely encountered a rotor, which caused her landing flare to be ineffective and her descent rapid. The jumper landed hard, and she broke her femur.
The incident report did not include important information such as what size and type of canopy this jumper was flying or how current she was. However, it’s possible that lack of currency due to the longer-than-normal winter break caused by COVID-19 shutdowns was a contributing factor. This was likely exacerbated by jumping at an unfamiliar DZ that had a landing area that was smaller than she was used to.