An inexperienced skydiver went low on a 9-way speedstar, didn’t track very well at break-off, and deployed under another jumper from the formation. The end result was a canopy collision on deployment, a bleeding arm with some skin left on the bridle and a torn pilot chute. Ouch.
I knew I was close and just hoped that my canopy would open fast enough.
Why did it happen?
Confusion on the ground
There was lack of communication because this jumper (filming POV) missed the ground briefing but then he decided to change the plan at the last minute, which caused confusion. Also, there were jumpers with varying skill levels on this jump.
Chaos in the sky
The jumper who went low was inexperienced compared to the rest of the group (150 jumps vs. 450 jumps) and the inexperienced jumper was supposed to be the base. When he didn’t make it in to the formation, he may have lost track of the group and didn’t know where everyone else was. Also, he may not have tracked as hard and far as he should have. The jumper above was consequently put into a position where he suddenly had a canopy immediately below him.
What could have prevented it?
Better planning is a huge factor here. As the saying goes, “plan the jump and jump the plan.” There was a lot of miscommunication and not everyone was on the same page. Additionally, based on jump numbers, there’s a good chance the jumper who went low shouldn’t have been on a big-way. Several small mistakes led to a very scary situation, which could have been fatal. We’ve all heard it before but incidents like this are rarely the result of one single mistake. It’s typically one minor issue adding to another minor issue… and another… until suddenly the domino effect creates a very serious problem. The jumper who saw a canopy below them did what many skydivers are taught to do: immediately pitch. A better option might have been to track for another few seconds to create more horizontal separation. You never 100% know how much altitude a deployment will take — snivels, malfunctions, etc., happen — but you can control horizontal separation. In this particular case, these jumpers deployed around 4,500 feet, so there was some altitude to spare to continue tracking for more horizontal separation.
What do you do when you look down and see someone deployed underneath you? Do you try to track your ass off and pull in the basement? Do you immediately pitch and hope that your deployment is fast enough to keep you out of the other person’s canopy or that at the least it slows you down enough to make a collision survivable? Definitely an important topic for Safety Day.