Even though everyone loves watching Friday Freakout by Jointheteem, no one wants to be the main feature on those videos. That’s why currency and taking a good look at the primary information USPA gives us annually regarding skydiving incidents is essential. It aids in avoiding skydiving accidents and injury, while keeping skydiving safety at the top of our minds.
According to Deloitte US, in 2020, two game-changing shifts affected the US sports industry: the COVID-19 pandemic and the social justice movements. USPA states that skydiving saw a 15.2% drop in jumping activity in 2020. In fact, this is the most significant reduction since USPA began keeping records. However, many drop zones reported higher activity since people could jump again in June/July 2020. USPA’s last newsletter says that “this fact presented a situation our sport had never before encountered: high volume of jumps but a near-universal lack of currency.”
USPA Incident Summary
Keeping in mind that many skydivers cannot regularly jump due to the laws imposed by their countries. We need to be aware of what happened in the past to avoid it in the future. A great way of doing this is by checking out the recently non-fatal incident summary shared by USPA.
“Unquestionably, 2020 presented a unique set of challenges to overcome. Skydiving has historically fared economic recessions reasonably well (the 2008 recession had almost no effect on jumping activity), but the global pandemic was different and nearly stopped jumping”. – Ron Bell
USPA divides the landing category into 3 subcategories: unintentional low turns, intentional low turns, and non-turn-related incidents.
Intentional low turns
Making high-performance manoeuvres close to the ground increase the amount of risk tremendously. Most people involved in these skydiving incidents are D-license holders.
Unintentional low turns
In 2019 only 2% of the accidents were because of low turns. On the other hand, in 2020, 12% of the accidents were related to low turns. According to the USPA, 4 jumpers died making unintentional low turns. The skydivers that survived it, reported breaking at least one bone.
“Lack of currency was an issue in 2020, and uncurrent jumpers tend to make rash decisions that lead to inappropriate low turns. The 2020 fatality summary shows that unintentional low turns constituted a whopping 36.4% of all fatalities last year, well over the 20-year average of 8.8%.”- Ron Bell
Non-turn-related incidents decreased its percentage from 46% in 2019 to 36% in 2020. At first, I thought it was great, but the reality is that this 10% shifted towards unintentional low turns.
The interesting part of this research is that non-turn-related incidents produce a much lower fatality rate. Actually, 98% of the non-turn-related skydiving incidents are non-fatal. It means that a straight-in approach is the safest way to land.
Landing injuries to lower-experienced jumpers are caused chiefly by hitting an obstacle, performing a poor landing pattern, turbulence during the landing and the skydiver didn’t make a good flare and PLF (parachute landing fall).
I always assumed that downsizing too fast was the cause of many skydiving incidents. That was what I heard from more experienced jumpers. This year USPA was able to gather enough data to state that “the majority of the USPA’s members are flying canopies appropriate for their license or experience level.” However, the majority of the accidents are with jumpers exceeding the recommended wing loading.
Learning from others
What can I learn from others’ experiences? That is precisely the question I ask the most when I read about an accident. I try to analyse it and bring the information I found towards my reality of skydiving safety. That way, I can avoid making the same sequence of errors that causes that kind of accident.
When a skydiving injury occurs, the jumper involved can go backward, finding smalls errors that combined together, caused the accident. I learned from Dan BC a trick that helps me avoid these minor mistakes. He told me to think that everything that can go wrong will go wrong. Also, as Sharon Har-Noy Pilcher said during a skydiving seminar, “We don’t know what we don’t know.” It’s highly recommended that we use our knowledge and consult more experienced skydivers about our ideas, jumps, gear, and goals in the sport. Other skydivers can always contribute to skydiving safety and avoid skydiving injury.
Currency in skydiving is fundamental
I wrote an article about skydiving safety and currency a year ago. I’m pushing on it again because we had never faced the world as it is today. We need to understand that we are not the same skydiver as we used to be after some time without jumping. Muscle memory faded away, we are not as fast as before, and our perception of distance and speed changed because of the lack of jumps. Lack of currency is a recipe for skydiving accidents.
Paying extra attention is the key, and the best way to do it is by pretending we are new skydivers. Asking friends for gear checks, check and protect handles. At the same time, in the plane, make sure we are using seat belts, looking down to the landing area before exiting the plane, breaking off at the correct altitude. It’s good to make sure we are not losing too much altitude during the break-off and opening a little bit higher to make sure we have more time to deal with a malfunction is always recommended. On landing, flying a predictable pattern and making sure we follow the rules of the drop zone we are jumping at is the best way to avoid issues and skydiving injury.
Keep coming back
I hope this article gave you some good information about this new era our sport is facing. I’m sure number of skydiving accidents will decrease soon and the incident statistics will become as low as they always were. However, until then, let’s do our best not have to report any accident while doing what we love the most: flying and canopy piloting.
Many parts of this article was based on the article Currency, Currency, Currency wrote by Ron Bell for the Parachutist. You can find much more information and numbers, read it.
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