Tales from the Bonfire - When in Doubt

I was on a hop-and-pop load to 4,500 feet with three other jumpers in a Cessna 182. The exits all went according to normal procedure, and my opening was good. With my slider stowed and steering toggles in hand, I started counting the other parachutes. That's when I picked up on the freebag spiraling in the air out in front of me. Cutaway!

I found that the other three jumpers were safely under good canopies, so I decided to chase the freebag. While doing this, the main came into my field of vision, and I got close to getting wrapped by it. I had read an article in Parachutist that told me to avoid getting near a cutaway main, so that's what I did. The gear landed on either side of a country road, and it looked like I could land nearby and the recovery would be easy. Nope. 

Cars started to congregate near where the main landed, and my previously excellent off-landing area now had 20-plus cars scattered in it. One side of the road was nothing but a heavily wooded area, and houses, power lines and 40-foot-tall trees lined the other side of the road. “%*^$%#!” 

My best option at that point was a backyard obstacle course. I did some carving and braked turns into a sliding landing, since the house in front of me was getting close very quickly. I did not hit anything, but my inflated main bumped the roof. I was able to back away immediately, and luckily my main did not snag on anything.

The owner of the house was raking the yard, and my dropping in for a short visit surprised him. I was very polite and thanked him for the use of his yard, gathered my parachute and hustled out to the road to gather the other jumper's gear. As I arrived amidst the traffic jam, one of the motorists yelled for me to run to help what he thought was a distressed jumper somewhere out in the woods in need of medical attention. I was polite and explained that there was no one in need of assistance and thanked everyone for coming to the aid of the skydiver. All the motorists returned to their cars, and the parking lot turned back into a country road with little or no traffic. As the parking lot disappeared, the DZO appeared and I did not have to walk back.

 So then it was situational-awareness and value-analysis time: 

Was there anyone in distress who required immediate aid? No. So why rush to get there?

Were there other, safer landing areas farther away that required a bit more walking but still allowed timely gear recovery? Yes.

Was there time to go to the other landing sites when the first cars started to gather? Yes. So why not work past the surprise and take the out? My cost-benefit ratio was no good, and my situational awareness fell apart in the final minutes.

From this experience I learned, “When in doubt, take your out.” I flew into a situation when I didn’t have to and then did not react in a timely fashion to the developments. I was lucky, and the large amount of experience I had flying my Sabre 210 helped me walk away. During this non-emergency, my good intentions combined with a little change in the variables on the ground and made for a real emergency situation. My experience has schooled me again, and I sustained no injuries … this time.

by Mark Christensen | C-33686 | Deatsville, Alabama

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