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Rating Corner | Safety Day Forums on Emergencies Below 2,000 Feet

By Michael Wadkins

The Rating Corner | February 2020
Saturday, February 1, 2020

USPA Safety Day is just around the corner—on March 14—and most DZs are gearing up for the event. Each year, DZs tend to cover the same topics, and although these are important and provide a great review, we’re hoping that this year they’ll also get creative and find more ways to engage skydivers.

One topic that doesn’t often get a lot of coverage but should are emergencies that happen under canopy below 2,000 feet. The mindset of most jumpers once their canopies open is, “Everything is OK now that my parachute is open and I’m heading back to the DZ.” However, several emergency situations can occur during what should be a leisurely canopy ride back to the landing area. Having a complacent attitude about this part of the skydive is dangerous, since abnormal occurrences during the descent can lead to injuries or fatalities (and many times have).

Consequently, we are asking drop zone operators and Safety and Training Advisors to consider holding an open forum on Safety Day covering incidents that occur below 2,000 feet. Provide scenarios in question form to help your jumpers think through how such emergencies could happen, how to prevent them from happening and what to do if they do happen. Here are a few suggestions of topics to pose to your audience to generate discussion and lead them to a deeper understanding:

  • If you have a canopy collision between 1,800 and 800 feet, what will your actions be?
  • What will you do if a brake line breaks at 1,700 feet while you are turning? Will you cut away or decide to land with your rear risers? Have you ever tried to land your canopy using your rear risers?
  • What will you do when you realize at 1,500 feet that the small hole in your canopy has suddenly become a much larger hole that affects your ability to steer?
  • What will you do if you lose a toggle on landing? How will you land your canopy?
  • What will you do if you lose control of a rear riser while swooping in for landing? How will you fly the canopy and limit injury?
  • What will you do if you perform aggressive turns at a low altitude and find yourself in a series of line twists at 1,000 feet? 
  • If, after a long spot, you must land somewhere filled with obstacles (e.g., a small field surrounded by trees and fencing that contains cows, a barn and farm equipment), which obstacle will you decide to land on and why? 
  • If you are under your reserve and must land in a small residential backyard, what kind of canopy turn will you execute? When is the last time you executed a flat turn other than during your A-license training?
  • What will you do if you’re at 1,200 feet and notice broken suspension lines? What are your options?
  • If you are turning from the base to final leg of your landing pattern and notice that a skydiver who is unaware of you is heading directly toward you, what is your course of action? Have you planned an additional out on your final approach? Will you be a hazard to others if you decide to take evasive action?
  • If you are avoiding an obstacle on landing and are flying in half brakes, when do you flare? When have you last practiced a PLF?

This year on Safety Day, in addition to covering the standard topics, focus on broadening your jumpers’ knowledge base. By asking these questions, you will motivate skydivers to develop critical problem-solving skills that will be sure to help if they find themselves in these situations. This, in turn, will help the skydiving community think outside the box and be more prepared and educated for each and every skydive.

Michael Wadkins | D-18691; AFF, Tandem, Static-Line and IAD Instructor Examiner;
Coach Examiner; PRO
North Central Regional Director and Safety & Training Committee Chair

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