Well a premature parachute opening while flying head down isn’t quite what this skydiver had in mind to celebrate jump #700. His hackey got caught in the plane and caused the premature opening only a few seconds after his exit. A lot of bad stuff could’ve happened but, thankfully, both the jumper and his friend above him made it to the ground safely.
Why did it happen?
Most incidents are the result of a chain reaction of small things that add up to one big event. In this case, there were two key things which led to this premature deployment:
A loose pilot chute
This jumper said a video review showed that their hacky caught on something inside the airplane. Snag points, or even rubbing the bottom of your container against the floor of the aircraft, can be enough to pull on a handle. The same thing applies during an exit, catching the side of a door or bumping another jumper can easily expose enough of a pilot chute to cause a premie in the air.
No handle checks
The jumper also stated that “For some reason I did not do a handle check on this jump, it would have made the skydive much more enjoyable if I had.” — and a longer skydive, too 😉 A quick grab of the hackey could have informed the jumper of the potential safety issue.
What could have prevented it?
When entering, moving around within and/or preparing to exit a plane, it’s important to maintain your situational awareness! Don’t drag your container against surfaces which would snag a flap, a handle, a pilot chute, etc. More so, when it happens – and it will, we’re packing lots of bodies into a plane like sardines into a can – pay attention, recognize it occurred, and take the time to ensure that nothing was shifted dangerously by getting a gear check.
Final gear checks
Prior to exiting the plane, checking your handles and/or having a buddy give you a gear and pin check, should be able to catch and prevent a large portion of the equipment mistakes which result in safety issues. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t maintain awareness, it’s simple an extra precaution to keep you from becoming Internet famous in next week’s Friday Freakout video.
One last thing that should be said is that during free fly jumps, especially while head down, these issues become even more important. At the speeds achieved during a head down jump, a premie could result in serious bodily harm and/or death.
Speaking to a neurosurgery physician assistant (he happened to be sitting next to me as I wrote this) we discussed how aortic dissections, traumatic brain injuries, and diffuse axonal injuries resulting in brain death are all possible.
In layman’s terms: the body slows down as the canopy opens, but the internal organs keep moving. Having them slam into the body at 180mph is a recipe for a bad day. This jumper was fortunate that the premature deployment occurred super early in the jump (about 10 seconds and 1,000 feet) and he hadn’t hit dangerously high speeds.
We’re not trying to scare anyone off from shredding head down, we just want to note that using proper gear and checking it before a jump becomes more, not less, important as you become more experienced and progress into faster orientations of body flight.