By USPA Director of Safety and Training Ron Bell
USPA tasks each Safety and Training Advisor with filing an incident report when a skydiving death occurs, but S&TAs are not the only people who can file a report, and a death is not the only reason for filing one. For a little over a year now, USPA has put a determined effort into increasing the number of non-fatal incident reports submitted by members while continuing to reduce the number of actual incidents that occur. It is starting to pay off. In 2018, USPA received just 29 non-fatal incident reports. In 2019, USPA received 146, a nearly 600-percent increase. This is a move in the right direction, but we can still do better.
As USPA members, we need to continue to change our mindset about incident reporting. Filing an incident report does not mean that you’re ratting on yourself or others. There should be no fear of reprisal. (You can even file anonymously if you wish.) The fact is that reporting an incident is a positive step that motivates change. It is the only way USPA can collect sufficient information about skydiving incidents to be able to improve the overall safety of the sport. Taken collectively, these reports lead to more comprehensive safety innovations and improved training principles and techniques. For without empirical data, how can USPA see patterns develop and determine which safety areas need attention? Your contribution is crucial.
Here are some examples of incidents that merit reporting:
- A student misjudges the landing flare and breaks his ankle. He did not PLF.
- An experienced jumper has a low cutaway following a premature main-canopy brake release during deployment and subsequent spinning malfunction.
- A new wingsuit flyer lands off the drop zone.
Though each case, taken individually, seems to be a minor event, the data that USPA gathers from receiving many such reports can point to a widespread issue that requires attention. What may seem like an anomaly to a jumper in the field may be part of a larger pattern that USPA can discover only by compiling multiple reports. Are we seeing an increasing number of ankle injuries in students due to a failure to PLF? Are certain types of toggle stows more prone to premature release? Are new wingsuit flyers more likely to land off than jumpers who are new to other disciplines? Finding the answers to questions such as these is only possible if we have enough data.
One way USPA is attempting to make incident reporting more common is to introduce skydivers to it in Category H of the Integrated Student Program. This information is also accessible to all skydivers in Skydiver’s Information Manual Section 5-8, which explains in detail how to complete a report. The Incident Reporting form itself is available under the Safety and Training tab at uspa.org. The hope is that by educating jumpers on the importance of reporting and by making the forms readily available online, jumpers will complete them in a timely manner so that all the information gathered is fresh and accurate.
Jumpers can ensure that the information they submit is useful by providing detailed and accurate accounts of incidents without glossing over unsavory information or leaving out important facts. USPA makes this as simple as possible by providing handy check boxes and fill-in-the-blanks areas for information on demographics, jump types, equipment, weather and aircraft. Try to fill these sections out completely … you never know what detail might provide the key to determining the cause of a series of incidents.
The Description section follows the check-box sections. In this section, the reporter lays out the facts of the incident: what happened when. This should be a fairly straightforward description of the jumper’s actions and the consequences of those actions. Here are a couple examples:
- The jumper executed a 360-degree turn for landing at about 200 feet above the ground. The canopy did not have time to recover and the jumper hit the ground hard. He broke his femur but is expected to recover fully.
- The jumper was making a solo sit-fly. At about 10,000 feet AGL, the pilot chute came out of its pouch while the jumper was in a sit. The pilot chute briefly entangled with the jumper’s right arm but cleared and deployed the main canopy. The jumper had a long, cold canopy ride and an abraded right arm but was otherwise uninjured.
After completing the Description block, the reporter adds subjective information and speculation in the Conclusion block. The information contained in this area is crucial to gaining an overall understanding of the incident. This is the spot to include insights into the incident itself or descriptions of previous behaviors. For example:
- Experienced canopy pilots had repeatedly warned this jumper, who was just learning to swoop, about executing his turns too low and being a danger to other canopy traffic. He had repeatedly ignored those warnings and turned down offers of training.
- This jumper’s used gear was outdated and not suitable for freeflying. The pilot chute pouch was made of cordura and the elastic at the mouth of the pouch was worn. A rigger stated that he had told the jumper not to freefly in the gear, which was at the end of its airworthiness even for belly flying.
The above examples of descriptions and conclusions are brief, but jumpers can provide as much (or as little) detail as necessary. As skydiving incidents are often the product of a chain of events, the reporter will usually find that there is more than one cause behind an incident and that the conclusion section will necessarily be long. The important point is to provide detail about the circumstances surrounding the event and the history and actions of the individual involved.
It is only by receiving incident reports from the field that USPA can adequately address issues that affect our sport. All of us need to commit to the reporting process in order to make our sport safer.