Tales from the Bonfire
People | May 14, 2021
Tales from the Bonfire

Luke Daly

Last year, I may have unintentionally set a record for the longest wingsuit flight. I was the only wingsuit flyer on the plane, a Cessna 182, and the last jumper to exit. I was in no hurry and spent a few moments enjoying the sunset while I was on the step setting up for a poised exit. With little to no thought, I adjusted my left foot by sliding it back and to the right just a few inches, which put the corner of the step between the bootie of my wingsuit and the bottom of my shoe. I was snagged before I ever knew there was an issue. Upon exiting, I found myself suspended upside down from the plane at 11,000 feet.

I immediately put my effort toward staying calm and assessing the situation. I wasn’t able to reach up to where I was snagged, and the pilot was not able to let go of the controls to help cut me loose. I laid back for a bit to get my breathing under control and relax physically and mentally before going for my hook knife. As I began to cut the parts of the suit I could reach, I was careful to avoid accidentally damaging any portion of my harness or container. My concern was how the suit zips and locks into the parachute harness. If I cut the wrong portion and the suit tore but did not release me, I could go from being suspended upside down but stable to completely unstable.

My arms eventually lost feeling, and I had to hold my hands together and push my elbows out to maintain stability. After 15-20 minutes, I felt confident that I had exhausted all of my available options and decided to put my efforts into staying conscious, conserving energy, keeping an eye on my altitude (I was wearing a chest-mounted altimeter) and maintaining awareness of where we were over the ground. It was now past sunset, and I had to just hope that the pilot could remedy the situation on his end. I assumed that the pilot was going to have to land with me underneath and no matter what, I needed to be awake to brace for impact to have the best chance of survival.

Finally, after 45 minutes, the pilot’s maneuvers and the compromised integrity of my suit allowed me to rip loose from the plane. I’ve never been so happy to be in freefall. We were at about 7,000 feet when I came loose, and my right arm was completely asleep and flapping like dead weight behind me. My left arm and hand were not much better. I couldn’t pull my main parachute, and the torn suit was covering my reserve handle. Even if it hadn’t been, my left hand was barely able to poke around in the general area.

I knew for a fact that I had turned on my automatic activation device prior to the jump, so my new plan was to stay stable and hope for the AAD to do its job. I ended up under my reserve parachute not far above some woods but perfectly on heading to make it to a small clearing in a secluded backyard. Using my left hand to lift my right, I was able to hook a finger in my right steering toggle. Then I grabbed the left toggle, allowing me to hit the brakes, slow my approach and land safely in the grass. Luckily, I had my phone and was able to call and help everyone find me. An ambulance responded, but all the paramedics had to treat was one injury: a little scrape on my foot. The police gave me a ride back to the airport, where I did some celebrating, watched the international space station fly over, made a quick stop by the bar, spent some time around the fire and called it a night!

I cannot say “thank you” enough to the pilot. I also really appreciate the DZO, police, paramedics and everyone on the ground who worked in unison to navigate this stressful situation.

This situation was no one’s fault but my own, and I learned some lessons: Complacency is not your friend, and neither is your aircraft. Make every movement inside, outside and around the airplane thoughtful and intentional. Be accountable for yourself and those around you, particularly those with less experience. Be mindful of anything and everything that could go wrong on any given skydive. Be aware of your snag hazards. Turn on your automatic activation device.

The battery in my camera died shortly after the exit, but a few minutes of video of the incident is available here: youtu.be/68kdCa9vCXo

Luke Daly | D-37586
Bangor, Michigan

Rate this article:
No rating
Print

Number of views (1982)/Comments (0)

Tags: May 2021
Please login or register to post comments.