Responding to a Pilot-Chute-In-Tow Malfunction

Safety & Training |
Wednesday, June 19, 2019

If you were to experience a pilot-chute-in-tow malfunction, how would you respond? Now ask yourself, are you confident that your response is correct?

A pilot-chute-in-tow malfunction is probably one of the trickiest malfunctions you will ever face, so the best solution is to take steps to ensure you never have to deal with one. But you still need to be ready to act if it happens. Time is critical. You are most likely just below deployment altitude and still descending at 120 mph towing the pilot chute. You need to know which method you will use and take immediate action!

Skydiver’s Information Manual Section 5-1 lists two different processes for dealing with this malfunction:

  • Pull the reserve immediately. A pilot-chute-in-tow malfunction is associated with a high descent rate and requires immediate action. The chance of a main-reserve entanglement is slim, and valuable time and altitude are lost by initiating a cutaway prior to deploying the reserve. Be prepared to cut away if the main comes out once the deployed reserve loosens the container.
  • Cut away, then immediately deploy the reserve. Because there is a chance the main parachute could deploy during or as a result of the reserve activation, a cutaway might be the best response in some situations.

Check with the manufacturer of your container to help you make sure you have chosen the correct procedure. Depending on the manufacturer, a specific action may be required, while with others, it may be a case of either-or for the two methods. It is critical that you know the correct response for this emergency based on all the available data.

A pilot-chute-in-tow malfunction can be scary. Pack carefully and maintain your gear to avoid this malfunction. But make sure you know the correct response, practice your emergency procedures frequently, and be ready for it if that day ever comes.

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5 comments on article "Responding to a Pilot-Chute-In-Tow Malfunction"


Philip Guy

6/21/2019 6:24 PM

Thanks for sharing this, if you had to stop and think about what to do then you probably should review your emergency procedures again



mike j mcgowan

6/21/2019 6:51 PM

I am very happy USPA is addressing this type of malfunction. I wonder if the average jumper might not give this much thought because it is such a scary situation. But it doesn't have to be if we approach it like any other malfunction. Have a plan and execute the plan without hesitation.


Richard Smith Jr.

6/21/2019 8:58 PM

I experienced one of these due to a twisted leg strap. Normal exit and a 4-way from 9,500 agl, break off around 3000' and deployment at 2500'. About a second after throwing out the leg mounted pilot chute I realized nothing was happening so I reached back, grabbed the bridle and gave it two sharp pulls. When it appeared to be stuck to something I immediately deployed my reserve without a cutaway. In this situation a cutaway could have made the situation worse because I would have had a semi-deployed canopy attached to my leg as I was descending under my 26' Phantom round (this was in 1989-ish). I landed uneventfully under the round was very embarrassed in my failure to adequately check my gear or have a gear check prior to boarding.


greg semanoff

6/22/2019 5:36 PM



ian johnstone

6/22/2019 6:06 PM

I had a pilot chute in tow and didn't cut away. My main deployed but didn't inflate, but the risers were tangled and the main was wrapped in front of the reserve. I took time to have a look, and decided it would be safe to cut away. Once I cut away I unwrapped the risers, the main fell away, and I unstowed the toggles for a safe landing. I was, however, prepared to just let both canopies do whatever they were going to do with no input from me, then do a PLF.

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