“What keeps you up at night?” is a question skydivers occasionally ask me. My answer usually has something to do with a major aviation accident involving a skydiver or a jump plane that ends up grounding skydiving for a period of time. In my mind’s eye, the worst-case scenario involves an airliner or corporate aircraft with VIPs or politically connected individuals aboard and a jump plane or jumpers who weren’t authorized to be in the airspace, leading to mandatory grounding of all skydive operations. However, this scenario is so far-fetched that I haven’t lost much sleep over it.
In no wild nightmare could I have conceived that a virus would ground skydiving and, indeed, shut down the world. As I write this at the end of March, nearly all DZs have closed in the face of increasing restrictions by states and localities on crowds and retail businesses. (Aside from maybe an Otis elevator, few spaces are more confined than a packed jump plane clawing for altitude.) It now appears that April will bring more of the same.
Thousands of instructors, packers, pilots, riggers and support staff are without skydiving-related work. Other thousands of skydivers are grounded, unable to advance their skills and work toward licenses or ratings or train for upcoming competitions, including the August world championships in Russia, which is still on as of this writing. Hundreds of thousands of first-jump customers are now practicing social distancing, with health and survival at the top of their revised bucket lists and first jumps now at the bottom (if not scratched off altogether). And the kicker is that not even the experts can yet say when this will end and what the toll will be for people and the economy. Will we lose June, too? July? Without a doubt, the entire skydiving community will be affected.
Until the economy and the world return to normal, we should all take the time to reach out and check on others and help meet their needs, whether it’s a meal or a job or just a comforting word. Daily, we’re hearing of riggers and others who’ve taken up their sewing machines to make masks, gowns and other equipment that the medical community requires. Jump plane owners have volunteered their airplanes to fly equipment to far-flung locations. Skydivers are initiating online bonfires and Zoom gatherings to keep connected. Take the extra time you’ve been given to review skydiving safety materials by purchasing the latest Skydiver’s Information Manual and Instructional Rating Manual (or downloading them at no cost from uspa.org). If you’re a competitor, the Skydiver’s Competition Manual is also on the website.
There will be an end. DZs will reopen and we will once again gather to jump and enjoy each other’s company. On that day, imagine how blue that sky will be. How anxious you’ll be before that jump and how free you’ll feel after it. How good the skydiver hugs and high-fives will feel. How cold that first post-jump beer will be. Never again will we take skydiving—and our skydiving family—for granted.