No s**t , there we were, thought we were gonna die.
Fortunately, after 45 years of skydiving, I only have a few stories that begin like this.
Back in the day, when the sport was transitioning into using turbine aircraft, a Twin Otter visited our Cessna drop zone. It was thrilling, although we were steeped in the learning curve. At our safety meeting before jumping began, we were briefed on the operation of the door. Before roll-up Lexan doors were standard, several experimental door configurations were out there. This aircraft had the hinges removed from its door, which hung on a cable system that allowed jumpers to move it inside the airplane and slide it along the port side of the fuselage for egress. It went pretty well for several loads.
Then, Mr. Murphy showed up with his law. We were on jump run and received the signal to open the door. I was seated about mid-aircraft and can still vividly see the WTF look on Joe the pilot’s face as he peered to the back of the airplane. Some significant yaw was being introduced because the leading edge of the door got caught in the airstream and got jammed in the opening at about a 45-degree angle. There was dead silence in the airplane and time seemed to have gone into slow motion. Everyone was stunned at what they were witnessing.
We were now trapped in an airplane at the potential beginning of a stall-spin sequence, but Joe kept the plane flying with his exceptional skill. Everyone stayed seated while I got on the floor at the back of the airplane and worked to dislodge the jammed door. I was thinking, “If this door goes out, it will take off the tail. This could turn out to be a really bad day.”
Hands went into my legstraps as I struggled, which I found very reassuring. After a few good tugs at the door, divine intervention—and many helping hands—allowed me to get it freed up and back in the airplane. As I sit here writing this, my heart rate still elevates.
At that point, Joe did a go-around and we exited the airplane without further incident. Then we had another safety meeting with regard to door operations.
My takeaway from this event is how far we have come with equipment preparation (personal and aircraft), our evolving approach to safety and its continuous move toward refinement. Safety is everyone’s job.
It is my hope that you all have very few stories like this to tell in your career and that if you do have one, you will have the outcome we were lucky enough to enjoy. Be careful when operating equipment, especially the jump door. If you don’t know how to operate it, ask. If you see something, let someone know.
Anything that can happen, will. I’ll see you at the bonfire.
Brian LeSchander | D-10442
Spencerport, New York