During the ride to altitude at a summer boogie, an organizer noticed a twist in the lateral webbing on a jumper’s harness and informed him of the problem. The organizer then also noticed that the soft, pud-style reserve-deployment handle was tucked under the harness’ main lift web. The jumper untucked the handle and still decided to jump, even though he was informed that with the main-lift web twisted between the hip junction and the chest strap, it was likely that the handle would return to the hidden position during the jump.
Every decision you make reflects your priorities. In this instance, the jumper prioritized making a jump at a boogie over safety. If the jumper had encountered a malfunction, especially one such as spinning line twists (which many jumpers have problems reacting to in the best of circumstances), the handle would likely have tucked back under and made an already bad situation unmanageable.
Fortunately, the jump went off without incident. Unfortunately, the fact that it did normalized the decision to jump with a gear problem that could have caused serious issues. The jumper, the organizer and everyone who witnessed the events walked away with the idea that it is somehow acceptable to leave a problem uncorrected since there were no negative repercussions.
Fatalities are generally the result of a chain of bad decisions that culminate with an accident, a logical conclusion to a string of illogical choices. Eliminating any link in that chain changes the outcome. Breaking the chain early by recognizing and correcting a poor choice as soon as possible is the key to decreasing the number of incidents and fatalities. In this case, the first link in the chain was not jumping with a twisted harness, it was failing to get a gear check prior to boarding. A simple gear check would have caught the issue right away and eliminated all of the poor choices that followed.
If your priority is to be a safe skydiver, then every decision you make should reflect that priority. A safe skydiver always checks their gear before donning it. A safe skydiver receives a gear check before boarding. A safe skydiver who discovers a gear problem on the plane rides the aircraft down.
We all fall short of always making the best choice, especially when under pressure. That’s why a healthy safety culture requires everyone’s participation. Each of us plays a role in pointing out illogical choices. If you’re truly safety conscious, you won’t get offended when criticisms of your decisions come your way; you’ll stop what you are doing and make the needed corrections. In these moments it helps to ask yourself, “What are my priorities?”
Ron Bell | D-26863
USPA Director of Safety and Training