Inside a No Pull Cypres Save
You may well wonder what Know Your Shit, is all about. Well, we've all heard the expression, "No Shit, There I was", when describing a close call in Skydiving. In August 2012 I found myself in just such a situation, and was Lucky to escape alive. In fact, I am only here today thanks to the Cypres 2 unit on my back. (Cheers Guys!!). I am a skydiver with just short of 4000 jumps 13 years in and around the sport, Have held an AFF Rating, Tandem rating, Coach rating since 2005, have done 1000+ tandems, and performed 7 successful Cutaways. So HOW exactly did I find myself in a situation where I could not save my own life by pulling my own reserve handle?? The Short answer is I didn't Know what I didn't know...there was a gap in my skydiving knowledge, and it nearly cost me my life. As a person in Skydiving, with a reasonably high profile, I could have tried to bury this incident, spare my pride, and just learn from it myself and move on. But that is not the Deepseed way, and that is not my way. Sharing is Caring, and so I am resolved to starting a Campaign to ensure that people Know Their Shit!!, and make safety in skydiving something that all the Cool kids are doing.
In 2006 I left my job as a tandem instructor and Videographer, to invest in Deepseed. At that point I had around 3500 jumps. Over the first few years of joining Deepseed I did only a handful of jumps (usually going base on a hybrid at a Boogie or something like that). Then in March 2010, I bought a new rig and canopy, and decided to get back into it more. Between 2010 and May 2012, I did probably 300 jumps, including some coaching jumps with Post AFF students. It wasn't until I went on Grand Turismo 2012, at Skydive Fano in Italy, that I did enough jumps in a row to feel really current.
The equipment I was jumping on the day of the accident was: Javelin Odyssey with a Cypres 2 unit fitted, Pd Optima 143 reserve and a Daedalus Project JFX 119 Main Canopy (which I had started jumping in April 2012). Just prior to leaving for Italy, I had got my chest strap modified to an extra long one, and replaced my standard risers, with longer risers. (All swoop mods). I was flying the canopy LIKE A BOSS in Italy and even had a text Book Cut Away half way through the Tour. Check out that video below.
On the day of the accident, I was organizing a 4-way Scrambles event at the Good Vibes Boogie. We were short of camera flyers, so I was also covering loads where they were short. A good Mate had noticed that "my shit was weak" that day. I was flustered for a good chunk of the day, and my head was all over the place. For the actual jump, I was filming a novice group, but had agreed to pull in place as they broke off (4500ft was agreed break off). The jump, although not a great skydive, went off without incident, and they broke off together and I pulled in place. My JFX opened beautifully, (as they always do), I could see the previous group were open and so I used my rears to orientate myself towards the DZ. . I was just cruising along switching off my cameras, unclipping my camera wings, undoing my chest strap and finally collapsing my slider. By this point I was just about entering my set up point for my landing pattern, and went to pull the slider behind my head. As I pulled the slider down, I had a break fire on my right hand brake toggle. With a loading of 2.2, My Canopy started to wind up pretty quickly, but I knew what the issue was, and had had enough of these previously, that had always gone well (just releasing the other brake) to assume I could do this one. However, a combination of the gloves I was wearing and the fact that the other toggle was trapped under the grommet meant that I was unable to free the other break toggle. At his point I glanced down, and nearly shit myself..Like a tit, I had gotten sucked down low, I had boosted my hard deck. I knew 2 things at this point. I could not land my main safely, and that I needed to beat my cypres to avoid a reserve main entanglement. I made the call, Cutaway. At this point, I was still confident that my trusty reserve procedures would save my ass again, just like the previous 7 cutaways. LOOK, I looked down, LOCATE...Fuck My Arse....I got the cutaway straight away, but could not find the reserve. A combination of a full opened extra long chest strap and a flapping camera wing, and the way I was spinning, meant I couldn't get the reserve. I made a super tough call to Cut away anyway, and arched like a bastard, putting my last hope in my Cypres Unit. As the ground hurtled towards me, I thought to myself what a stupid way for my two kids to lose their Daddy. I had cutaway at 800 ft. at around 600 feet I felt the reserve come out, and started to get pulled upright. Thank you Cypres I thought...but I was still maching it towards the ground. I knew I was going to hit, and hit hard. I braced myself and then Smashed in with enough force to 1. make an 8 inch divot in the ground with my feet, (which hit first) 2. Make a 3 inch divot with my arse (which hit second) and 3. knock my camera helmet off my head and smash my Cx12 off it's flatlock mount, tearing the guts out of the camera. I bounced up about 6 feet and forward about 10 feet and ended up on my chest (cracking my sternum and breaking 3 ribs). Analysis of the video would later show that my reserve had just about fully inflated as I hit the ground. My left leg was instantly numb (I assumed from all the smashed up bones that I surely must have broken), but when my mate Fiona McLaren landed next to me and patted down my leg, she told me she couldn't feel anything sticking out, and everything seemed to be in the right place. She also said I was wiggling my toes. I was having trouble breathing and my chest felt like it was being crushed and I had bitten my tongue, but the guys did the right thing and kept me still and calm. I got airlifted to Nelson after a shot of Ketamine, and had the most horrible "Trip" of my life...I honestly thought I was dying, with the black tunnel and everything (kind of like the TV being switched off). I wasn't dead though...far from it. I was stabilized in Nelson hospital and scans revealed a burst fracture (3 pieces) of the L2 vertebra and 80% inclusion of the Cauda Equina from the pieces of broken vertebra. After a successful operation, where I had a fixation of 2 Titanium Rods and 4 screws fitted to my spine, the spinal column was only 20% included. I would learn to walk again over the next 10 weeks in Burwood Spinal unit (it was freaky waking up with a totally paralyzed left leg) but that is another story. This is about my accident, and the lessons that can be taken from it. Watch the Video (unless you are squeamish) and then check out the lessons that I have taken from it, after discussions with some of the jumpers I most respect here in New Zealand.
Scary Shit Huh??? Well take a look at the lessons I learned from this accident, Take them on board, and please don't ever find yourself in a similar situation where you realize that you don't know, what you don't know.
1.Modifying your SOP's (Standard operating procedures)
I already stated above that I was flying a JFX 119 loaded at 2.2 wing loading. Obviously, I am a good enough canopy pilot to fly and land that sort of canopy, when all goes well. BUT, I had not taken into account just how much faster things happen under malfunction (I hadn't adjusted my reserve drills to take this into account). I also undid my chest strap BEFORE completing a full canopy control check. My 1000's of jumps had taught me that if your canopy is open and in full fight, and steers on risers, and fly's straight and level, that all is good. You can pretty much relax, especially if you know you're spot is good and you're going to land on the DZ. My failure to carry out a full canopy control check at the right altitude meant that I was thrown into a malfunction situation at approx 2000 feet (Hard Deck) after flying straight and level for 15-20 seconds during which time my state of alertness and readiness had the chance to come right down.
I have the skills to fly and even land my canopy on rear risers and so may you have, BUT remember, until you have done a FULL Canopy control check, you are flying an unknown entity. Are you flying an accident waiting to happen??? The full control check is taught on AFF ground school. If you are going to modify your procedures. make sure you know all the possible consequences.
2. Modifying your Equipment
As mentioned above, I had modified my harness container system by adding an extra long chest strap, and longer risers. I had done this to allow my canopy to fly better, and perform better during my Swoop. I had not paused to consider the potential consequences of the modifications. ie, where my emergency handles would be once the chest strap was fully open. With the risers, It was more difficult to reach the slider, and ease the grommets over the brakes. something I was easily able to do on standard risers, and something which prevents brake fire. There is no problem is modifying your equipment, so long as you have thought through the possible consequences, and modified and practiced new SOP's to deal with the physical changes to your set up. I would also throw in at this point a note about digital altimeters. I was using a L&B Viso, which is a great Altimeter, and perfect for swooping...BUT you do have to read the Alti, which takes more time than a quick glance at a standard alti (which have the added feature of the Yellow and Red zones, to give you a CLEAR visual of the Hard deck altitude.
3. Altitude Awareness at all Times
I had developed a really bad habit over time, of not looking at my Altimeter under canopy (other than the final part of my swoop set up). My Eyeometer was always pretty good and after nearly 4000 jumps, I knew what the ground looked like at different altitudes. However, by not looking at the Alti during the flight, you do not register when you have passed the hard deck. Make sure you have drilled yourself to be super onto it around Hard Deck time, and also rehearse mentally what hitting that Altitude means. ie. You are at 2000 ft. if you end up in a Malfunction, You do NOT have time to try and sort it out, you need to get off it immediately. When you hit 1000ft, you should be aware that you're reserve may not have time to open, so you need to mentally rehearse what you would do in that situation. I cut away at 800ft a decision that could have killed me, but also, riding in that spinning malfunction could have killed me as well. You need to think about what you would do. Visualize checking your altimeter during a malfunction, so you know what height you are at, and know what your SOP's are at different altitudes. I was lucky, I got away with it. 2 weeks later, a young Italian in New Zealand was not so lucky and was killed in similar circumstances.
4. Temporal Distortion
You need to know what this phenomenon is, as it can be a killer. It is where your sense of time slows down or speeds up. Think about when you first ever exited a plane (can you remember the first 5 seconds???) or did things just go by in a blur? What about if you have been in an accident before, did you ever get that sense that things were happening in slow motion? Why does this happen?? Well I don't know the science, but it seems to happen when you find yourself in unfamiliar violent or stressful situations. Your mind and Time play tricks on you. When I was being interviewed by the Accident Investigator after my Crash, I would have sworn on my kids lives, that I cut away at around 1200-1500ft, when in reality, it was more like 750-800ft. Also, when I had a break fire (which normally happens directly on opening) my mind tricked me into thinking I was back at opening altitude, hence why I spent precious seconds trying to deal with the malfunctioning main canopy, when I should have gotten off it straight away as I was below the Hard Deck. As with most things in skydiving, you can avoid temporal distortion by being current. By making things more familiar, you do not get stressed out by them when they happen. Malfunctions are stressful, BUT, because we are drilled to expect one on opening, we are primed and on high alert at that stage in the skydive, so that if it does happen, you know what to do straight away. You have visualized it and rehearsed it so many times, that when it does happen your response is almost automatic. BUT if like me, you get thrown into a malfunction a good while after opening, and after flying a perfectly good canopy, how will you react? Have you visualized and practiced for an out of sequence event??
For many years, I have jumped without my RSL attached and many experienced jumpers do. The thinking behind it is that You are proficient in your emergency drills and will always be able to find your handles when needed AND if you are on a higher loaded canopy that is spinning radically under a malfunction, you want to make sure you get clear of the canopy before deploying your reserve. That line of thinking worked fine for me, until it didn't. fact is statistically, the RSL is going to save more people than it kills. And these days with skyhook, the process has been refined, and some of the old arguments do not apply any more. Certainly, In my particular incident, If I had been wearing a skyhook, I would have had a couple of seconds of a fully inflated reserve, and may well have walked away with a few bumps and a wounded ego.
6. Ongoing Training
No matter how much you think you may know about skydiving, what I have found is that You don't know what you don't know. You get taught all of the basics on your AFF ground school. But that is all you get taught The Basics. As you progress in the sport, what you get told on AFF where you are on a 1:1 wing loading or even higher, is not adequate knowledge to deal with smaller faster canopies. You need to make sure that when you do make a change, try something new, change to a smaller canopy, get a smaller container and reserve, switch to a different type of Altimeter, etc, that you ASK the question...How will this affect what I am doing?? Do I need to change my SOP's at all? Swooping is THE SHIT...Free flying is THE SHIT, skydiving and doing radicle stuff with your mates is COOL AS FUCK....BUT when you see people doing all of this cool stuff, what you don't know is that you don't know what the thought processes are behind what they are doing. You don't know the potential dangers that you need to have an answer figured out for, in case you find yourself in the Shit. I have attended a Canopy seminar with Brian Germaine, during which I learnt a bale out procedure in case you ever find yourself diving at the ground, and out of altitude. I used that lesson to good effect on a swoop where I had turned too low. The knowledge was there, and my brain recalled it, when I most needed it. I performed an awesome looking carve, and my hip skimmed millimeters off the floor as I bled off speed in a carve and slid in on my ass safe and sound. If I had never attended that seminar, that knowledge would not have been in my arsenal of life saving maneuvers. Sadly, although my Good friend Geoff Mundy had been giving canopy seminars in Italy, which I had helped out with. I missed the lesson on dealing with a brake fire. The intentional drill where you release one brake after opening and then practice the different ways in which you can counteract the turn and get the canopy flying straight and level. ie, use the rear riser on the opposite side to the brake fire, OR if you can grab the Toggle (which you'll see in the video that I did) pulling and holding it half way. I have had that gap in my skydiving knowledge for close to 4000 jumps. I did not know that I did not know it, until it was too late, and I was in the shit and my go to drill, of trying to free the other brake toggle was not working for me. I wish I had had that training. Then I wouldn't have had to go through 8 months of rehab, nerve pain and hassle for my family, as well as being away from my business for 6 months.
I totally get that thinking about the worst case scenario, or all the things that can go wrong, is a bit of a downer, and that one of things about being a skydiver is the thrill of doing something risky, and knowing that by doing it, you are pretty cool compared to your average Wuffo. BUT you need to remember that our sport is not very forgiving. What you don't know, might very well end up killing you. So while you don't need to turn yourself into an uber Geek, reading safety manuals from cover to cover and visualizing your emergency drills for hours and hours...you do need to make sure that you Know Your Shit....that way, you can keep on skydiving and doing heaps of cool and extreme stuff WITHOUT hurting either yourself or worse, someone else.
Go Hard, Be Safe Blue Skies,