Pop Quiz: Where is an open container not a good thing?
a) On Bourbon Street
b) At your favorite casino
c) At home chilling with a great movie
d) When it’s an open parachute container in a jump aircraft
Hopefully you correctly picked d) When it’s an open parachute container in a jump aircraft! We were all taught as students that it’s important to protect your gear in the aircraft, get multiple gear checks, etc. However, many safety lessons fade as we accumulate more skydives; complacency is our enemy in so many ways.
One common way many jumpers become complacent is by becoming less careful about protecting their gear, especially when they’re doing a new type of skydive. For example, I spend a lot of time sitting near the door since most of my jumps are formation skydiving training jumps from 10,500 feet rather than full altitude. That means I sit right behind any hop and poppers, and quite often I see jumpers, often those newer to hop and pop skydives, bumping their rigs on the ends of benches as they sit down on the floor. (I also see a lot of people neglecting handle checks, but that’s a different article!)
Let me show you why that’s a bad idea:
Before you laugh and say, “I’d never do that,” know two things about this video: One, we needed only one take to make this happen. Two, we made the video because a very experienced skydiver sitting by the door with their back to the bench fired a reserve pilot chute into my lap as we were climbing to altitude awhile back. How? This person had been sitting with their rig tight to the bench and as we climbed, eased their sitting position so they were laid back more. This neatly (and of course unintentionally) used the end of the bench to push the reserve pin out of the closing loop.
Luckily for all of us, we were high enough that we had already closed the door, so all that happened was the jumper got to climb to the front of the plane and ride it down before visiting the rigging loft. If the door had been open, the result could have been far worse. Premature deployments inside the aircraft have the potential to catch air and pull the jumper out the door, possibly injuring or killing the jumper and even damaging the aircraft significantly.
Here’s one example of how bad a premature deployment in the aircraft can get; the aircraft was significantly damaged and the jumper did not survive. We owe it to those who lost their lives due to mistakes to learn from them and not repeat them.
This did not occur at a Spaceland drop zone, nor is it a Spaceland aircraft.
In closing: Don’t lean your rig against the end of a bench or a horizontal rail across the aft bulkhead, and always be alert for the feel of your rig contacting the aircraft or other jumpers. Get a gear check if you have any concern that such contact might have compromised your pins.
Oh, and always check your handles before opening the door and before exit!
–Christy West (Aviatrixx, US Parachute Team)