Friday Freakout: Skydiver’s Total Malfunction (Pilot Chute In Tow), Followed By Two-Out Scenario

Posted by Andrew R.

This skydiver pitched his pilot chute to deploy his main canopy, but the parachute didn’t open — it was a pilot chute in tow, a total malfunction.

A pilot chute in tow is a high speed malfunction that requires quick thinking. In this case, the skydiver decided to go straight for his reserve to get a parachute over his head as quickly as possible. However, just as he pulled his reserve handle, the main parachute deployed.

Then he had a two-out scenario to deal with.

As the main canopy separated from the reserve, he had an opportunity for a clean cutaway without an entanglement and he landed safely on his reserve.

What’s your emergency procedure for a pilot chute in tow?

Emergency procedures for a pilot chute in tow malfunction have been a long-standing controversy. To go straight for the reserve, or cutaway and then pull the reserve? That is the question.

The USPA SIM shows both options, with no preference, and there are mixed feelings in the skydiving community.

There are those in favor of a cutaway before pulling the reserve:

Cut that s#!t away! The last thing I want is that main randomly coming out and inflating at some point during or after the reserve inflation.

Some are concerned about the unknown outcome of cutting away before pulling the reserve:

If you cut away, the departing main, with its lines and risers, may entangle the inflating reserve. That, and a reserve is never guaranteed to work. If it doesn’t, and I didn’t cut away, I might still be able to get my main out. If I did cutaway, I’ve lost that option.

There are those in favor of going straight to reserve:

My opinion and practice for a pilot chute in tow is to deal with the actual problem first — pull the reserve. If the main pin releases subsequent to that, I’ll deal with it then. I don’t want to waste my precious time dealing with an imaginary problem when I have a very real problem in hand.

And there are those who feel the EPs really just depend on the situation:

Know why you do each set of emergency procedures for each situation… don’t just instinctively cutaway and go straight to reserve, as it may not be the right course in that moment.

So, I’m curious, what are you EPs for a pilot chute in tow?

Do you first cutaway, then pull your reserve? Or do you go straight for your reserve without cutting away?