Friday Freakout: Wingsuit Spins Out of Control, Caused by ‘Goggle Malfunction”

Posted by Zej Moczydlowski

A wingsuiter jumped out of a military aircraft for a special jump, claimed to be the first-ever wingsuit flight over Kuta in Bali, Indonesia, but he quickly loses control and deploys his parachute while spinning on his back.

Why did it happen:

The wingsuiter was exiting from the back ramp of a CN-295, a large twin-prop military transport plane, from 10k feet with 120 knots of ground speed. As he exited, his goggles became dislodged and popped down over his face. If he wasn’t in a wingsuit, he might have been able to re-adjust the goggles in freefall, but the nylon straitjacket made it a bit more complicated.

The goggle-related disorientation resulted in a lot of input into the wingsuit that rolled him onto his back and created a fast spin. The jumper didn’t really try to deflate his wings so the spin continued to get worse. (There’s a saying in wingsuiting, “BANANA, BANANA, BANANA!” that instructors use to teach students regarding how to react to this situation.) He was unable to see his altimeter or other jumpers, and knowing he was above a densely populated area, he decided to deploy early.

Luckily, his main opened clean and he landed without further incident.

How could it be prevented:

Gear choice: full face helmet vs. goggles?

Many experienced wingsuiters disagree with using ski goggles in their discipline. Others, however, argue that goggles are less prone to fogging than full face helmets and are more effective at preventing ambient air circulation from reaching the eyes. Either way, when using a piece of equipment, knowing how to use it effectively is critical.

When it comes to goggles, experienced wingsuiter Dan Wilson notes:

Not all goggles are created equal. Strap tension and tightness of fit are very important. When straps are worn over the helmet, they can sometimes slip off the helmet and come loose. When straps are worn under the helmet, the act of putting on the helmet can change strap location and alter tension… And sometimes people just don’t choose goggles that fit them well.

Other thoughts:

Because the jumper really didn’t attempt to stabilize it was only through sheer luck that his main deployed cleanly. Some may argue that he should have tried harder to get stable first. In this case he couldn’t see his altimeter, didn’t know his altitude, couldn’t check where he was, but knew he was over a densely populated area where off-landings could be difficult. His choice was a responsible and safe one.

A skydiver is almost never wrong for choosing to perform their emergency procedures if they think they’re in a situation where it’s warranted. It’s typically better to deploy unstable at a safe altitude than to sacrifice altitude for stability and place yourself in a precarious situation.