Friday Freakout: Helicopter Nearly Hits AFF Skydive Student In Freefall!

Posted by Zej Moczydlowski

What happened

I don’t think dodging a helicopter in freefall was part of this AFF student’s ground school 😲

This AFF jump took place during a boogie, which offered heli jumps to fun jumpers at the boogie. As the student was deploying his main, the student and his instructors fell dangerously close to the helicopter as it was climbing to altitude. The main side instructor had some colorful words to say (and maybe some colorful underwear to wash) but everyone landed safely.

Why did it happen

Inexperienced Pilot

In the video submission it was noted, A helicopter was brought in for the boogie, piloted by someone unfamiliar with skydive operations.” Evidently this pilot was not experienced with flying jumpers and was not aware of the (common sense) safety considerations which jump pilots should have in mind.

Communication Issues

The submission also notes that, “Communication between pilots and the safety crew was lost during this incident.” It’s difficult to determine whether this means that communication was lost between the pilot dropping jumpers at altitude, the pilot in the helicopter, and/or ground control.

How could it be prevented

Stricter Procedures

A few experienced jump pilots and ground control personnel were consulted on this video. A myriad of points was brought up.

1. Ground control: During boogies, dropzones should have an “air-boss” on the ground whose sole purpose is coordinating aircraft. If there are only two planes operating, the argument can be made they are able to communicate with one another. However; if there are three or more aircraft, low passes, high pulls, CRW jumps, etc.; there should be someone controlling the chaos.

2. Typically, communication issues should temporarily halt an aircraft’s operations:

— If communication between the helicopter pilot and the ground was lost, they should not have taken off. And they certainly should not have flown under jump run.

— If communication between the aircraft pilot and the ground was lost, they should not have dropped their jumpers without permission. (During a boogie with multiple aircraft, most dropzones require pilots to communicate when they are preparing to give the green light.)

3. Airspace plan: Many dropzones institute airspace plans which avoid this type of situation by preventing aircraft from flying through jump run airspace.

Briefings

As noted, the helicopter pilot was inexperienced and that may have contributed to them not knowing what to do in a situation where they lost communications. However proper briefings on topics such as skydiving operations in general, airspace considerations, communications plans, etc., should have remedied their lack of experience.

Additional Notes

Combat Boots

This is a very minor tangential note. But letting civilian students jump in combat boots – while not a violation of regulation – isn’t ideal. Combat boots are heavy, thick, and can prevent a student from having proper body awareness. They are more difficult to fly and their usage can create bad habits.

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