This skydiver had a sketchy off-DZ landing into a small residential backyard surrounded by fences and trees, which was a little more excitement than he was hoping for with only 230 jumps under his belt. So, what happened? This jumper was at a dropzone where there are assigned jumpmasters who check the spot and approve the exit location. Trusting the jumpmaster, he and his buddy didn't check the spot and exited as directed.
Once under canopy, the jumper realized how far he was from the dropzone and that he was flying into the wind. From 3,000 ft to 2,400 ft,, he kept trying to figure out if he could get to the DZ. At 2,400 ft he picked an off-landing site, but at 1,800 ft realized he couldn't make it and chose somewhere else. At 900 ft he realized he wasn't going to make his second choice and he was forced to make a last second attempt to land in residential backyard (let's call it a small garden).
He had a rough landing due to an early flare, but he just sprained his ankle. Whew!
The jumper was fixated on the dropzone and really wanted to land there. As a result, he ignored how much push he was getting from the wind and made a few bad decisions as he got lower and lower. This fixation was so strong that it also made him forget his landing priorities.
The individual said, “the jumpmaster misread the wind by about 180 degrees” and that there was “some miscommunication with the pilot” resulting in the “airplane flying downwind relative to the landing area and quite far away from it.” If that’s the case, it sounds like two experienced individuals both made a mistake when they checked the winds.
The jumper didn’t check the spot and must not have known the winds aloft because – if he did – he should have said something about getting out in a spot on the wrong end of the dropzone.
This jumper admits that he was focused on getting to the dropzone and landing into the wind. Effectively, he prioritized the fourth landing priority (land into the wind) ahead of the second landing priority (land in a clear area)! He would have been far safer turning around, aiming his canopy at the massive open fields behind him and sliding in a downwind landing.
Before you get on the plane, you should check the winds aloft to have an idea about how strong the push is going to be.
Before you get out of the plane, you should check the spot – never trust someone else.
Combine your knowledge of the winds with the spot you’re looking at and think about where you’re getting out. Ask yourself a few questions. Are you on a huge canopy? Is getting out going to result in you getting pushed so hard that it’s impossible to get back to the dropzone?
One additional possibility is that the winds shifted while these jumpers were in the air – some dropzone locations are notorious for this. Given that both the pilot and an experienced jumpmaster evidently didn’t realize how strong the push was, we think there’s a possibility that this may have been the case here.