This seemingly smooth AFF jump escalated quickly once the student lost stability, with the main-side instructor chasing the student into the basement and deploying their main canopy with a ripcord. The instructor ends up with an AAD fire, a two-out that started to down-plane, and an off-DZ landing with a very rad PLF (catch that at the 2:37 mark at the end of the video).
Why did it happen
Instructors care about students. It’s in their nature to do everything they can to make sure jumpers under their care have a canopy over their heads at the end of a jump. However, as noted in the USPA IRM, “Under no circumstances should an instructor attempt to catch a student or remain with a student below the instructor’s minimum deployment (2,500 feet).” This instructor was fixated on getting his student’s main canopy deployed and, consequently, he was about 1,000 feet below his hard deck when he pitched.
As a result of the target fixation on the student, the instructor was very low when he deployed his main. The sniveling main did not decelerate him below his AAD’s settings and the cutter activated, deploying his reserve. Fortunately, it was a clean deployment and the canopies did not entangle so, when they down-planed, he was able to cutaway.
How could it be prevented
Instructors have many concerns during a jump and it may be difficult to check a wrist-mounted altimeter while attempting to control a student. That is why USPA states “audible altimeters are strongly recommended for USPA instructional rating holders when making training jumps with students.” This instructor did have an audible and still got fixated on their student. This reality says a lot about how hard it can be to maintain altitude awareness while chasing a student into the basement… but it’s a critical and fundamental item for an AFF-I.
This instructor stated that he deployed his main at approximately 1,500ft. Some instructors and examiners who viewed this video stated that, at that altitude, it may have been more prudent for him to have gone straight to his reserve. This argument was presented because, if he had a high-speed malfunction, he may have not had time to deploy his reserve.