Friday Freakout: Two Tandem Skydives Nearly Collide In Freefall

Posted by Zej Moczydlowski

What happened

This jump very nearly turned catastrophic when one tandem instructor (TI) deployed seconds before impacting another tandem that was already under canopy. Tandem sandwiches are not particularly tasty so we’re glad that the second TI didn’t pitch any later.

Why did it happen

There are a bunch of possible issues, or combinations thereof, that could’ve contributed to this incident.

Exit Separation

The second group may have not waited long enough in the door. This occasionally happens with the last tandems getting out of the plane if a TI is concerned about getting back to the dropzone (DZ). One TI who viewed this clip noted that, given how much time it takes for a videographer to get settled in and for a TI to get set up in the door, they don’t believe this to be as likely.

Altitude Awareness

This jump lasts about 50 seconds from exit to deployment. If they exited at 10,000 feet instead of 13,500 feet – common at many dropzones – they could have been low.

Deploying Too Soon

The first group may have deployed early. This also sometimes happens when TI’s are concerned about making it back to the DZ after exiting close to the end of jump run.

Flying Down Jump Run

Sometimes a TI – or any jumper – will deploy and then take a second to get settled in without realizing that they are flying up jump run.

How could it be prevented

Ask For A Go-Around

Some dropzones and/or pilots pressure their TI’s to never do a go-around because it costs fuel and throws off the rhythm of operations. Instructors need to know when it’s no longer safe for them to get out. We should never forgo safety in an effort to keep everyone happy. But if your DZO is pushing you to do so, remind them that the lost revenue associated with negative press related to a major incident is going to be a hell of a lot more costly than a few extra dollars of Jet-A.

Maintain Situational Awareness

On every jump it’s important that jumpers remain aware of surroundings in terms of factors like altitude, jump run, the locations of other jumpers, etc. That jump run factor is one that many jumpers fail to consider, once you’re open you should make sure you’re not drifting towards groups that are exiting after you.

Additional Note

Don’t Screw Over Your TI Buddies

There’s no way to tell if this was an issue during this jump but it happens a lot so we thought we should discuss it. Some fun jumpers think tandems, because they fly huge canopies and deploy higher, can get back from any spot. As a result, they don’t take tandems into consideration when they’re setting up in the door. This can put pressure on TI’s to make unsafe decisions.

If you’re among the first jumpers getting out of the plane, start checking your spot once the door is open on the red light and exit promptly on the green light because if there’s a bunch of people behind you, delays will tend to snowball and grow with each group.

Some belly jumpers (sorry, but it’s a fair stereotype) wait until they’re directly over the landing area in the perfect spot rather than getting out on the green. On a normal day with low winds, approximately one third of the jump should get out before the DZ, one third should get out over the DZ, and one third should get out after the DZ so that there’s an even distribution of canopies spread across the area and everyone can get back. When the first group decides to get out immediately over the landing area instead of prior to it, that can put the final third – typically the tandems – in a precarious spot. Be considerate of your fellow jumpers and get the @#$% out! 😊

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