On October 31, Director of Safety and Training Jim Crouch spent his last day as an employee of USPA and moved on to other challenges in the aviation industry.
It was July 2000 when Crouch applied to become USPA Director of Safety and Training. The job had been vacant for three months and was proving hard to fill. In many ways, the position was—and still is—one of the most critical and important jobs at the association. After all, USPA has always been primarily about enhancing the safety of those who participate in our fast-paced, adrenaline-fueled and oh-so-unforgiving sport.
Crouch, who held multiple ratings and knew the intricate details of USPA’s instructional programs, was the perfect choice. Over the course of 18 years, he has been a major influence on all the USPA initiatives that have dramatically reduced skydiving’s risks for all participants. When he began, canopy training and landing separation were an afterthought, and the accident rate reflected that. When he began, the sport was experiencing an average of 32 U.S. skydiving deaths per year and a fatality rate of 1 per 84,375 jumps. Now, the sport averages 22 fatalities per year and a fatality rate of 1 per 133,333 jumps.
Through Jim’s efforts over 18 years, the safety of our students, always the most vulnerable among us, has also been enhanced. Shortly after his arrival, the annual average number of student fatalities stood at 3.6. That average has now dropped to 2.8 per year and continues a downward trend.
Along the way, Jim has authored countless safety articles for Parachutist magazine championing improved student and novice training, regular review and performance of emergency procedures by all skydivers and enhanced canopy-flight training. The readers of hundreds of “Safety Check,” “Rating Corner,” “Keep an Eye Out,” “Incident Reports” and “Ask a Rigger” articles benefited from Jim’s experiences, his research and his insight. He also wrote for and edited The Professional, the monthly e-newsletter filled with timely safety-related information that USPA sends to rating holders, Safety and Training Advisors and DZ owners and operators. His writing style was clear, often entertaining, rarely preachy and never holier-than-thou. He knew that everyone is capable of mistakes and errors in judgment. On occasion, he even described his self-inflicted incidents so that all of us could learn.
One measure of Jim’s positive influence on both the safety of our sport and the public’s perception of it came in 2009, when the SAFE Association awarded its General Spruance Award to USPA. The SAFE Association is “dedicated to ensuring personal safety and protection in land, sea, air and space environments.” It presents its prestigious General Spruance Award for “outstanding contribution to safety through education.” (The Parachute Industry Association Awards Committee, chaired by Mike Beck of DJ Associates, nominated USPA for the award.) Feeling strongly that SAFE was recognizing USPA as the result of Jim’s work, I asked him to travel to its symposium in California that year to accept the award on behalf of USPA’s members. The honor really belonged to him.
Jumpers have called him “Grouchy Crouchy,” “Mr. Happy,” “The Man” and a few other unmentionable monikers in jest (mostly). He never minded, understanding that the safest approach and the best call are not always popular. That’s why so many of us will remember him as teacher, mentor, advisor and lifelong friend. I know I will. Thanks, Jim, for making our blue skies as safe as possible.
Ed Scott | D-13532 | USPA Executive Director