Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Skydiving Accident Prevention and Training

The danger in skydiving has decreased noticeably over the years. One detail that shocks a lot of non-skydivers is that most skydiving losses are attributed to jumper mistakes. From time to time such errors are made while dealing with an otherwise small mid-air crisis, and even on occasion, while flying underneath a fully-inflated parachute. Hardly ever is it actually a case of a correctly maintained, packed & deployed parachute failing to open.

If a skydiver experiences a malfunction of his main parachute, then foolishly waits too long before initiating his reserve deployment sequence, his perfectly good reserve parachute may never have time to fully inflate before impact. If this happens, it certainly can be said that his parachute failed to open.

This is not to suggest that properly operated modern parachute equipment never independently fails. It most certainly can, and sometimes does. However, seldom are such failures the random & comprehensive equipment failures the "parachute failed to open" lines suggests.

In fact, a good number skydiving accidents could have been easily prevented, and few cannot be traced back to some serious human blunder.

In recent years, advanced canopy designs have led to many fatalities associated with daring maneuvers known as "hook turns" and "swoops". As with flying high performance aircraft, the risks associated with these kinds of crowd-pleasing, show-off maneuvers are great.

If a jumper misjudges the altitude at which the final diving turn is initiated, or begins leveling-off for their landing too late, the jumper may impact the ground while the canopy is still diving at a very high rate of speed. This is often fatal, and has left the skydiving community often bemoaning the ironies of a skydiver dying under a perfectly good parachute. Many skydive centers have wisely banned the practice of low hook turns.

This type of fatality can also occur when a jumper mistakenly turns his or her canopy too sharply, too low to the ground -- as when maneuvering to avoid an impending collision with another canopy* or ground structure. (*another avoidable scenario is mid-air collisions between skydivers flying under canopy)

In an effort to reduce these kinds of avoidable accidents, student training centers have re-written their training syllabus to include more intensive canopy piloting techniques.

James Hunt has spent 15 years as a professional writer and researcher covering stories that cover a whole spectrum of interest.