This month's "Gearing Up" is written for just 22 of you. If 2017 is an average year in the U.S. accident-wise, some 22 of you won't be around to read this column in next February's Parachutist due to a skydiving accident. Let that sink in: 22 of you reading this will die making your last skydive. Odds are you're licensed (most likely a C or D license), have been skydiving for at least 10 years and have just at or over 1,000 jumps. (Don't think you're off the hook if you're not nearly that experienced, since these are averages; less-experienced skydivers will be among them.) Statistics also tell us that the circumstances of your demise will likely involve a hard landing, a mishandled main-parachute malfunction or a collision.
If you knew you were one of the 22, would you take five specific actions to remove yourself from the forlorn list? Of course you would. And you don't even have to quit skydiving.
1) Participate in Safety Day at your local DZ. Most DZs are planning theirs for Saturday, March 11, but some schedule theirs for later in March or April. Many people put lots of effort into preparing and updating information to make you a knowledgeable and safer skydiver. Better yet, offer to help your DZO or S&TA by making a presentation. Let others benefit from the experience you have.
2) Review your emergency procedures and practice them in a hanging harness. Improperly handled main-parachute malfunctions remain among the most prevalent reasons for a fatal result on a skydive. Many times, the skydivers didn't initiate their EPs soon enough and ran out of altitude before their reserve parachutes could fully inflate. Other times, skydivers didn't react properly to their specific emergencies. There is no substitute for hanging-harness practice.
3) Install and use an automatic activation device and a reserve static line or main-assisted reserve deployment device. AADs, RSLs and MARDs are proven lifesavers. If you have a programmable AAD, set the activation altitude higher than the base altitude. In several documented instances, reserves did not fully open following AAD activation at the proper altitude. W hile there are several possible reasons for a delayed reserve deployment, a higher AAD activation altitude makes a delayed deployment a non-event.
4) Minimize turns under canopy, fly predictably below 1,000 feet and fly a controllable parachute all the way to the ground, and you'll likely avoid the other two prevalent accident categories: landing problems and collisions. It's as simple as that. Fly defensively, avoid other canopies and ensure your first touch down is at a survivable attitude and airspeed.
5) Have three gear checks performed on your rig before every jump. Do the first one yourself before you gear up. Have the other two done by others, one before you board and the other before you exit. And offer to perform a gear check for others. It's a fact: Every year, some skydivers die as the result of equipment conditions that simple gear checks would have detected and corrected.
Skydiving's level of safety continues to improve, and the fatal accident rate continues to decline. But individual safety depends on each individual's preparation and readiness. Take these actions just described and greatly increase the chances that your skydiving continues beyond 2017.