Tales from the Bonfire - Crab Walk

My experience happened on my 28th jump, when I was maybe two or three requirements away from achieving my A license. The skies were clear and the winds were about 14 mph. In no way did this jump seem like it was going to be any different from the two others I had successfully completed that day. Everything about the jump went fine and according to plan until the landing. The winds at my airfield, which were usually fairly predictable, shifted and gusted. I hit the ground with my right leg hard enough to fracture my ankle and break my tibia.

After hearing my leg snap from the impact, I grabbed some shrubs near me, put my head down and screamed louder than I ever had. Ironically, after gathering myself and trying to suppress my pain, my first thought was how embarrassing it would be to deal with everyone’s comments about being a student and screwing up so badly. But then five minutes went by, and then 10, and I saw no help coming. My thoughts of embarrassment quickly changed into a strange, short-lived sense of relief, because I was happy that I wasn’t the only person who screwed up that day.

I started to contemplate my options, but I couldn’t call the airfield because I hadn’t jumped with my cell phone. After 30 minutes went by, I saw the next plane take off with the next load of jumpers. Terrified, I realized that no one knew where I was, no one was coming and I’d need to crawl back to the hangar, which I estimated to be about a half mile away. Dealing with a mix of shock, fear and determination, I loosened my harness enough to crawl out. I then put my helmet down next to my canopy and set out crab walking on my hands and left leg while stopping every few strides to call for help.

After about 20 minutes of crab walking, I saw jumpers from the load landing. My airfield has a large landing area, but a jumper landed literally just 20 feet away from me. Strangely, he saw me as I screamed and waved my hands from the ground but just waved back at me with one arm as if to say, “Hey, yeah, good jump!” Evidently he saw but did not hear me, since he turned and walked back to the hangar. The pain, shock and confusion were very intense, but I knew I had to keep going even though I was moving slowly.

The sun was hot and my thirst began to increase as I witnessed two more loads take off and land. No one saw me crawling and no one saw the canopy I left behind (even though it was 200 square feet and bright blue against the sandy backdrop). After a solid hour of crab walking, I made it to about 15 feet from the hangar when someone spotted me. Everyone was shocked, and someone from the drop zone drove me to the hospital.

In the end, I still love skydiving very much, and this experience has done absolutely nothing to dampen my love for the sport.

I intend to finish my A license as soon as I recover from my second surgery and to continue jumping until I die of old age. There are many things that haunt me about that day but there is so much more that I was able to get from the experience than it was able to take from me. My airfield changed protocol (damn right it did), and I am expected to make a full recovery, so I see the whole thing as a blessing that may save someone else’s life. The scary truth is that if my fracture were compound and bleeding I would have died out on the airfield before help arrived. It is an eerie feeling when you can see people moving, interacting, laughing and preparing for a jump as you, not more than a few hundred feet away, scream again and again with no effect. But hey, at the end of the day it just makes a good tale for the bonfire.

Michael Gooch | USPA #289986 | Newbury Park, California

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Francisco Curiel De Icaza
Sun, 12/04/2016 - 10:52

Irresponsible I can not believe the degree of carelessness and lack of protocols of that drop zone, could have died, incredible, I hope it was not a uspa one.

Spotty
Thu, 01/05/2017 - 16:57

It certainly seems that someone who is not yet a A license should have been missed for so long. Rather than post this as a piece about the student I would be investigating the DZ in question to see what other safety protocols and procedures they are not following. This person is lucky the break wasn't worse. Protocol should always be to account for off landing jumpers as a priority.

Rob Warner
Sat, 03/11/2017 - 20:04

Let's review best business practices for keeping track of jumpers. Perris Valley employed Bad Spot Bill for many years.
Most DZs insist that all night jumpers visit manifest shortly after they land.
At Pitt Meadows, we always assigned a staff member to watch all openings and landings. Usually that staff member worked in manifest, but sometimes an instructor drew that straw. If any jumper landed out, I grabbed a radio and the DZ van and drove out to retrieve them. The radio was to ask permission from the control tower when I wanted permission to drive on a taxiway or runway.

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