JSC Johannesburg Skydiving Club
JSC Johannesburg Skydiving Club
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 Food for Thought 

Posted 21 January 2016

Article by Warren Dent

In the last few years I have seen quite the number of cut-away / reserve handles being dislodged and causing quite a stir for the skydiver. From a quick count, I personally have seen 3x Cut-away handles, 1x Reserve handle and 1x Tandem Primary.

Cutaway handle

What causes this? How can you try to avoid it happening to you? What do you do when it does happen to you?

Let me start off by saying this post is from my own experience and some talks with other jumpers right after such incidents. This post does not limit the options or possibilities, but serves more as a sharing post... hopefully starting to get us to think about these things, adding to your bag of knowledge, and raising your awareness. Please take it for that, you might have seen other scenarios and outcomes. Share this in the pub talks. Ask about what you saw. Ask about what you experienced.

So far we have two prominent causes of dislodged handles:

1.  Movement and shuffling in the plane

We need to move, we need to shuffle. Let's accept it. Whether it is to get in and to your seat, get to the door, getting into your exit, or trying to get blood to your feet again. There is movement in the plane. Sometimes you are the one moving a lot, sometimes it is your buddy. We emphasize the risk of movement a lot to avoid popping the pins, and for that same reason, movement risks that handles can come out of the harness.

Skydivers on their way to altitude

Even before you board the plane, discuss seating at boarding point and make sure you and everyone else knows where they are going to sit, and what the boarding sequence is. Try to know who is entering the plane before you, knowing who will follow is also good.

Get in, and be careful not to hook your handles on any parts of the plane. Get to your seat. Sit. Once you are seated quickly glance at your handles and check that all is good. Then watch your friends get in and keep an eye open on how they move, help them and keep in mind that your movement getting in, and/or their movement can dislodge handles. Move calmly, carefully and thoughtfully. I always find it helpful to stop someone that is moving without thought, and politely asking them to move calmly and help them. A lot of the time we are not aware of how far our rigs are actually behind us.

Once we are all in and taking off or airborne, it is time to limit your movement. (The pilot will also appreciate this as he isn't fighting the trim of the plane the whole time.) The excitement is pumping and the atmosphere is great, but every time there is movement, we risk hooking a handle of the guy behind you, or your handle on the person in front of you. Move if you have to, by all means. Getting up halfway to dance over everyone is funny, and dangerous.

Remain seated until the 2-minute call. The 2-minute call is always busy. There's fist bumps, people get up and turn around to be ready for the Door and Exit calls. Some are flexible, some need more space to move. When it is your turn to get up, keep it calm and easy. Keep your ears and eyes open. The person behind you might see something while you move and warn you. They are trying to help you. You can help them.

Check your handles!! Check the people around you!!! If it is out, fix it. If it can't be fixed then abort the jump and land with the plane.

Try to cover your handles with your arms at this point. It is easy for someone to accidentally bump a handle out with their rig if you aren't controlling the area around them.

Check your handles!! Check the people around you!!! If it is out, fix it. If it can't be fixed then abort the jump and land with the plane. (Yes, I said it twice.)

2. The climbout, exit count and first few moments in freefall

Skydiving exit from the Angel at JSC

We see it regularly, the excited skydiver gunning out the door to get his hand on the rail, but no thought for where he is rubbing against the plane, or where his rig is rubbing against the people around him. On some planes we have limited time and space to setup and exit, so knowing where to move and when, is a big time saver. Give people space to get in their place. If you are outside the plane watch your handles while you are waiting for someone to squeeze in place.

When the exit is stacked up tight, be aware of what is rubbing against your handles. We have seen that with some careful talks about the exit (during the dirt dive), and positioning, the risk can be lowered dramatically.

The exit count sometimes has big moves, to help people see. Plan your count to minimize friction on bodies. Sometimes the out-in-out works better, sometimes the up-down-out, sometimes the shake-down-out.

Moments after the exit... yeah... not all exits go smooth and solid. This is the time where people play crash-cars, turn a star into a flower and bond closely ('cause there wasn't enough time for this in the plane..) Good launches come from good briefings, and good understanding of what is required. Don't be lazy with briefings, don't be lazy on the exit. It helps a lot to secure a good exit.

The Conclusion to Cause and Avoidance — Movement. Minimize it. Plan it carefully.

You find yourself in freefall and notice your handle is out. Three important steps:

Panic is NOT an option. Acknowledge that you are aware of the situation and try to make the people around you aware. If you have a camera guy, try to warn him (maybe a big arm wave with the free hand, maybe someone else can signal him.)

Your Skydive is OVER. From that moment your sole task is to assess the situation and plan for deployment.

Priorities of freefall. Pull, pull at the RIGHT altitude and pull preferably stable. In one of the events, our team mate that had a reserve handle out was made aware of it by other team members, panicked and deployed the main, which then placed the camera guy in unbelievable danger. Luckily he was aware and when he saw the arm go for a pull, he deployed immediately and they missed each other with a lot less than a lucky shave. The lesson we all learned, was that it is important to remember the priorities, and pull at the right (planned) altitude, if possible.

If you notice your jump friend has a dislodged handle, the same three steps apply. Try to calmly point it out to the person. Stay in proximity until break-off – if you start to track like a bullet out of a barrel at 8000ft, you can easily track into the airspace of an exit before or after you, especially if you aren't aware of the run-in direction.

Let's keep it safe out there my friends.
We would love to hear your stories as well, share and learn.

Fast blue skies!
Warren D
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