Friday Freakout: Dangerously Low Opening, Skydiver Can’t Find Reserve Handle After Cutaway

Posted by Zej Moczydlowski

What happened

This jumper had some line twists combined with a left-side toggle fire on opening, causing the canopy to quickly start diving while they attempted to undo the line twists. They took some (*cough* too much *cough cough*) time before deciding to cutaway and then they also missed their reserve handle on the first attempt. They finally managed to deploy their reserve on the second attempt but were in the harness dangerously low.

Why did it happen

(Probably) User Error

In the slow-motion view it’s pretty clear that the toggle is out of the keeper in the first few seconds of the video. There are quite a few possibilities which can cause a toggle fire; the simplest is that the jumper may have not stowed it. Alternatively, they may have stowed it poorly and left it or some lines loose; poorly stowed brakes and brake lines can be hit by the slider as it comes down, knocking the toggle out of the housing. Poorly closed riser covers can also expose a toggle to the air and can potentially free it from the housing. Lastly, if the rig is old, the toggle keeper could also be worn out/loose.

Attention to Detail

Each of those items should be addressed and noticed while packing; make sure to stow your toggles, make sure to close your riser covers, and make sure your brake lines aren’t hanging out. During every pack job you should also be examining your rig to make sure that the toggle keepers are still serviceable and tight and that your riser covers aren’t worn out and apt to come undone during a jump.

How could it be prevented

Poor Altitude Awareness

This jumper fought that diving canopy for way too long. At one point in the slow-motion view it looks like he’s still fighting the line twists after he hits the 2,000 foot mark. The fact that he missed his reserve handle on the first attempt after cutting away is exactly why you need to cut away earlier; because after you chop you still need to get under your reserve, deal with any issues the reserve may have (line twists, etc.), find a safe place to land, and then actually fly there.

RSL / MARD / Skyhook

This jumper didn’t have any sort of RSL/MARD/Skyhook system so when they chopped low and had a hard time finding their reserve handle they were getting dangerously close to the ground. You should never rely on those systems but this is a perfect example of a jumper whose situation would have been better if they had one installed. (We’re also hoping they had an AAD but that’s a whole different discussion!)

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