Friday Freakout: Target Fixation, New Skydiver Hits Tree On Landing

Posted by Zej Moczydlowski

What happened

With only 45 jumps under their belt (18th on that canopy), this skydiver started their landing pattern too soon, which resulted in overshooting the landing area and slamming face-first into a tree. Damn you target fixation! This jumper said they focused on figuring out how to “land behind the trees or just in front of them,” and although that didn’t quite work out as planned, at least they picked out a Christmas tree.

Why did it happen

Target fixation

This newer jumper didn’t hesitate to admit they had target fixation. They saw something, they focused on that something and – lo and behold – they wound up slamming face-first into the aforementioned something.

Set rigid turn altitudes

This type of incident sometimes happens with new students because some instructors teach that you turn onto base at altitude X and then Y hundred feet later you turn onto final. This approach simplifies the pattern and makes it more digestible for new students but it doesn’t allow for flexibility and doesn’t prepare students to wing it (no pun intended) should something happen that makes them diverge from that plan.

No winds

This jumper noted that it was a no-wind day and, for newer jumpers, this can actually be the most difficult wind speed to negotiate when they’re still learning how to fly their canopies.

How could it be prevented

Acknowledge the issue

With target fixation, the most important factor is recognizing that the phenomenon exists. If you stare at the tree, you’re going to fly towards the tree, and you’re probably going to hit the tree! Once you know that this is what happens, you can make a conscious effort to not do it in the air.

Flexibility

The aforementioned strict approach, “Turn 90 degrees onto your base leg at this altitude. Fly for this long and then turn 90 degrees onto final,” is great for explaining the theory of a canopy pattern. However, as students start their progression, it’s important that they also learn that there can be flexibility in that pattern. You don’t need to – in fact, you probably shouldn’t – be doing a hard 90 degree turn at every corner in your pattern; rounding the corners a little is fine. Also, if you turn onto base a little early, that’s okay too – as long as you pay attention to where everyone else in the air is – to take that leg a little longer and bleed off some altitude so that you’re not finding yourself on a taxiway or in a tree.

Funny Note

About 5 or 6 years ago, when I (the post author) had about the same jump numbers as this person, I was at the Ranch in Gardiner, New York. I saw someone turn towards me while I was still early in my pattern and – wanting to avoid the other jumper, and not thinking that I totally had room to keep flying his pattern – I turned onto base super early. Like the jumper in this video, I also turned onto final instead of taking my base longer. I wound up trying to thread the needle between a telephone pole and a shrub… with predictable results! My feet touched the ground just as my canopy hooked the corner of the pole. Notably, the guy who owns the shop was a good sport about the holes through the bottom and top skin of a cell on his rental!

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