Going Low

Each of us, at some point in our jumping careers, will end up going low on a formation. Try as you might, there will come a day when you blow past everyone while diving to the base, or drop low after the formation collapses in a funnel, or all seven others on your jump will just seem to suddenly start floating above you. In freeflying, with faster freefall speeds, if a lower jumper suddenly corks (flattens out) below the others, the resulting collision can be fatal. And no matter what kind of skydive you’re on, if you are below someone, you are in the worst possible location for a parachute deployment, whether it is intentional or accidental. So, beneath a formation is not really a great place to be, and if it happens, you should have a plan for getting yourself into a safer position as quickly as possible.

If you end up low on a formation, you should work on slowing your fall rate to become level with the rest of the group. But make sure you do so off to one side of the formation so you are not slowing down directly below the others. Always keep an eye on your altitude and the formation while you continue to make progress toward closing the vertical gap.

But what should you do if you’re not making any progress, no matter how hard you work to slow your fall rate? The safest thing for everyone in this type of situation is for you to track away from the formation while there is still enough altitude remaining for you to gain the horizontal separation necessary to deploy your parachute in clear airspace. Altitude awareness is critical; make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to gain the horizontal separation you need while still deploying at your planned altitude. Using both visual and audible altimeters will help you stay aware of your altitude. Try to keep an eye on where the other jumpers are, and be sure to wave off before deployment so anyone nearby will know a parachute is about to open. If a higher jumper collides with your inflating parachute, the results could easily be fatal for both of you.

Skydiver’s Information Manual Section 6 covers advanced progression recommendations. This includes recommendations for learning formation skydiving, freeflying, wingsuit flying and camera flying, among other topics. If you start with smaller formations and advance your skills carefully, there’s a better chance that you’ll stay on level with everyone else. But have a plan ready in case you end up low—you never know when all your buddies will suddenly start to get floaty.

—Jim Crouch | D-16979
USPA Director of Safety & Training

SAFETYCHECK20113After going low on a formation, a jumper deployed his main without checking for traffic above him. The relatively inexperienced jumper was counseled after the skydive, according to the photographer, who added that there were no injuries, “just a scared cameraman and a guy who owes beer.” Photo by Johan Bryhni


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