Christmas Cameras

So Santa dropped a shiny new GoPro under the tree, and you are just dying to start jumping with it, right? Well, dying to jump with it could literally be the case, so be sure you are ready for the added challenges before you slap that thing on your helmet on the first warm day of the season. Jumping with a video camera involves challenges, many of which are not obvious to those who decide to start jumping with one. USPA recommends that anyone jumping with a camera hold at least a USPA C license (200 jumps), but jump numbers are not the only consideration. Before you start, check out Section 6-8 of the Skydiver’s Information Manual, which includes lots of helpful information.

The danger of entanglement between the camera and parachute equipment is just one in the long list of issues to consider. This past year, a fatal accident occurred when a jumper made a turn to final approach and his steering line snagged on his helmet-mounted action camera. The canopy remained in a spin for the last few seconds before the jumper struck the ground, and he died instantly from the hard impact. 

Bryan Burke, the longtime Safety and Training Advisor at Skydive Arizona in Eloy, sees small-format cameras as a genuine risk to unwary skydivers. Several years ago, Burke wrote, “If a team of engineers was challenged to come up with the best possible device to capture pilot-chute bridles or steering lines, I doubt they could surpass small-format cameras, unless they recommended that everyone bolt large shark-fishing hooks to their helmets.” So, if you jump with a camera, be sure to mount it so it is as snag-proof as possible. You’ll have to consider the many variables, which depend on the helmet and camera you use, but it’s important to spend the time and money to ensure that the mounting system, helmet and camera are sleek and minimize snag hazards.

The camera itself is just a small part of what you need to consider before undertaking aerial videography. Do you plan to video freeflyers? Belly flyers? Students? What sort of jumpsuit will you use? Do you have the necessary experience and skill to add a camera into the mix? There are plenty of recent examples of skydivers who were not ready for the additional challenges of flying with a camera and faced the consequences:

  • A jumper with approximately 50 jumps spent the entire plane ride fidgeting with his new camera. Another jumper on the plane pointed out that he had failed to fasten his chest strap because he was so distracted.
  • A jumper with 150 jumps initiated a low turn under canopy and was fatally injured. She had been filming a tandem jump that opened far upwind from the landing area. She passed over several clear spaces that would have allowed for a safe landing but continued to attempt to make it to the main landing area, presumably under pressure to make it back to film the tandem landing.
  • A jumper with approximately 170 jumps collided hard with a lower jumper as the lower jumper’s main canopy was inflating. The jumper was attempting to film a Mr. Bill jump (two jumpers under one open canopy) when the hanging jumper fell off and deployed. The filming jumper died from the impact, and the other jumper was seriously injured.

These are just a few of the hundreds of examples of skydivers who should have gained more experience before trying to add the complexity of using a camera on a skydive. The USPA C-license recommendation exists for good reasons. So, when it comes time for you to enter into the world of freefall camera flying, make sure you exercise extreme caution, do your homework, speak to experienced camera flyers and ensure that you are truly ready for the challenges. The life you save could be your own!

Jim Crouch | D-16979 | USPA Director of Safety and Training

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