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As adult human beings, we make approximately 35,000 decisions a day … 35,000! That’s a ton of decision making! If you’re a skydiving coach or instructor, a lot of those decisions involve the safety and wellbeing of skydiving students, and hopefully, your decisions are based completely on those considerations.
A jumper puts on his rig, boards an airplane and exits the plane at 10,000 feet for a formation skydive with three other jumpers. Soon after the exit, one of his teammates points out that his chest strap is flapping in the wind. It is unthreaded and trailing uselessly behind his back. At deployment time, he manages to hold the two main lift webs together with his left hand and deploy with his right. He lands otherwise uneventfully. The jumper was sure that he checked his chest strap when he went through his multiple gear checks. So if he really checked his gear, what happened?
Good judgment comes from experience, but for many, a lot of their experience comes from bad judgment. Regardless of whether you are just getting started in teaching skydiving by gaining a USPA Coach rating or have been at it for years and are receiving an Instructor Examiner rating, working toward a goal and earning a new rating is a challenging process that requires hard work and dedication. It is the end of one process (preparing and completing a certification course) and the beginning of another (the real-world environment). You have proven you deserve the rating with your knowledge and flying skills, but now is when learning really begins.
Photo by Daniel Angulo | D-28777
On his way to taking the gold medal in accuracy landing, Rick Kuhns approaches the tuffet during an 11th-round jump-off with fellow competitor Jimmy Drummond at the 2017 USPA National Parachuting Championships at Skydive Paraclete XP in Raeford, North Carolina.
T. J. Hine started skydiving in 1985, and his love for the sport and its people continues today. A well-known formation skydiver at Skydive Chicago in Ottawa, Illinois, Hine has set many state, national and world big-way records and has medaled in 8-way and 10-way at the USPA Nationals. As one of his colleagues said, “T. J. has always balanced his work and his passion for skydiving. His longevity and enthusiasm in the sport inspire many to keep going.”
An ever-increasing number of tandem accidents are attributable to the use of handcams, either as a direct or indirect cause. Sadly, the mistakes leading to these accidents are easy to see in high-definition video, as the tandem instructors continue filming with a straight left arm even as the world around them is going to hell.
Hard-impact freefall collisions resulting in serious injuries and fatalities were once a common issue with formation skydivers and freeflyers, and now they’re an issue with wingsuiters. Modern wingsuit flying—which now has had more than 20 years to develop training methods and equipment and build a foundation of knowledge—cannot truly be considered a new discipline any longer, but it continues to struggle with injuries and fatalities from collisions in freefall, as well as collisions with the aircraft on exit.
At the July USPA Board meeting in Seattle, Washington, the Safety and Training Committee spent most of its meeting time discussing the instructional rating process. The results were multiple changes, some of which went into effect immediately and others of which will come into play at a later date.
It took almost 25 years of skydiving, but I finally experienced an aircraft emergency as a skydiver. Actually, I would not even classify it as a true emergency, since the engine loss happened at 13,000 feet. As a pilot myself with many hours in this King Air, I knew what was going on and I had a good idea of how the pilot who was flying was going to handle the situation. But seeing how everyone reacted was interesting. Some looked nervous, and some seemed confused about what to do.
Think of what might go through the mind of a racehorse in the starting gate: “I’m here to race. I was born to race. I live to race.” Compare that to the thoughts that fi ll the minds of a talented team of experienced skydivers at a world record event ... when they are stuck on the ground due to weather. Perhaps thoughts like: “I’m here to jump. Let me jump. I’m dying to jump.”
In 1964, I launched my magazine, DZ-USA, to promote the sport and contribute something other than doomsday predictions at a time when the man on the street viewed a parachutist as a daredevil looking for a place to die. In that same year, I was invited to appear on “The Joey Bishop Show” in Hollywood to represent the sport. There, I met John Frankenheimer, who was promoting his movie “Grand Prix,” and Lyle Cameron, who produced Skydiver magazine. John was very interested in what Lyle and I had to say about the sport. He stated that he’d always wanted to make a movie about it and would contact us if a future project came up.
John Bull’s love for the sport and the community is contagious. Bull made his first jump in 1978, and in 1981 he became a member of the Air Trash brotherhood of skydivers, to which he still belongs. Bull simply loves formation skydiving and is happy to jump with anyone on the DZ, from a newly A-licensed jumper to the most experienced of load organizers. He is an ambassador for the sport and the kind of guy you can’t help but love.
Lewis “Lew” Sanborn, D-1, has been skydiving for 67 years. He and Jacques André Istel, D-2, established sport skydiving in the United States in the 1950s. Sanborn started jumping with the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and later became a member of the U.S. Parachute Team, master rigger, private and commercial pilot, instructor, national judge and world-record holder. He devised a technique for freefall photography and shot a cover photo for Sports Illustrated. In 1960, he was even nominated for an Academy Award for filming the skydiving documentary “A Sport is Born.” In 1972, USPA honored him with its Lifetime Achievement Award “for originating safe and reliable parachuting equipment and pioneering work in freefall photography.” In 2000, Istel inducted him into the Hall of Fame of Parachuting in Felicity, California. In 2001, the Golden Knights made him an honorary member, and in 2010, the International Skydiving Museum inducted him into its Hall of Fame.
Legendary aerial cinematographer Tom Sanders, D-6503, has filmed skydiving scenes for dozens of movies, including “Drop Zone,” many James Bond films and the original “Point Break,” which inspired thousands of people to become skydivers. His resume also includes countless TV commercials, the award-winning documentary “Over the Edge” and coordinating filming of the 1988 Olympic Rings skydive. In 2005, USPA awarded him its Gold Medal for Meritorious Service. He is the 200th person profiled since this column began in February 2000.
Currently with more than 18,000 jumps and 300 hours of freefall time, Carolyn “the Queen” Clay, D-3347, from Williamsburg, Virginia, doesn’t show any signs of slowing down after 47 years of continual skydiving.
The choices you make when purchasing skydiving gear can literally mean the difference between life and death. The data on the causes of skydiving injuries and fatalities makes it pretty clear that nothing is more important when it comes to gear than the size and type of main canopy you choose to fly and the decisions you make while flying it.
There is probably no other piece of skydiving equipment more misunderstood than the reserve static line (RSL). If you want 10 different opinions on why you should or should not equip your container with one, simply ask 10 different skydivers.
Whether it is a visit to a nearby drop zone during a weekend of normal jump operations or a long trip to a boogie or other special event, it is fun and exciting to head out for new adventures. But it can also be intimidating, especially if you are new to the sport and leaving the nest for the first time. A little planning and preparation will go a long way toward making your experience fun and painless.
Photo by Jim Harris | USPA #160885
Over Skydive Spain in Seville, freefly team Volare (from left, Daniel Parker, Frazer Smith and Mike Carpenter) trains for the 2012 FAI World Parachuting Championships held in Dubai.
Many canopy-related accidents are rooted in a lack of basic skill and knowledge regarding canopy flight. The USPA Board of Directors has taken a step toward reducing canopy-related injuries and fatalities by mandating new requirements for the USPA B license.