A Few Lessons I Learned (or relearned)|
by Bill von Novak - email@example.com
1. Don't jump when you're impaired.
Most people have a pretty good idea that jumping drunk is a bad idea. I've never done that, although I've jumped with nasty hangovers a few times (which can be almost as bad). What I forgot is that there are many kinds of impairment.
Labor Day Boogie, Byron. On Saturday I made a few jumps, but by the end of the day I was feeling decidedly strange. My reaction times were slowing way down and everything was hurting. On my last dive I went low, something I haven't done in 3 years now. I remember deciding that I probably should stop jumping until I felt better.
Sunday morning I felt even stranger. Sort of giddy, almost, except every muscle in my body was sore. But there was jumping to be done, so I got on a mad John load. On the way to altitude I practiced cutaways a few times, then at 3000 feet I closed my eyes for a second. When I opened them everyone was about to climb out, so I got into position and went.
It was one of the strangest skydives I've ever been on. I felt like I remembered in theory how to skydive, but that information was temporarily unavailable. I sort of blundered into the base and worked my way hand-over-hand to my slot. I never made it back in to the second point. At break off I tracked away and opened. My canopy opened a little off heading, so I grabbed my cutaway handle and pulled. I remember staring at my hands, thinking to myself "now why the hell would my hands be doing that?" I stopped with about six inches of cable showing. Both risers still had the yellow cable in the cable channel, so I figured I could land it without getting cut away at 100 feet.
I landed without incident (fortunately) and decided not to jump any more. On the drive home I would occasionally see a road sign jump into the middle of the road - I wasn't driving, fortunately.
There are many kinds of impairment. I don't know what sort of bug I had, but it seriously affected both my basic skills and my judgment. Hopefully, next time that happens I'll be better able to read the signs.
2. Even the pros screw up
At a record attempt at Perris this fall, I looked over just before Climbout and saw someone's chest strap not threaded at all. It was just sort of looped around the adapter, dangling there. And this was someone who had several thousand jumps, been on several successful record attempts, AFF JM, all around expert, current skydiver. I pointed it out and she looked at it, jumped a little, then rethreaded it. Moral - it can happen to anyone, and it never hurts to look.
3. Plan the dive and dive the plan
We were doing some RW at Elsinore (20ish-way) and someone went low. The plan was to just continue as he tried to recover. After a few moments the organizer looked over at the low guy, released, and headed over towards him. Well, what the heck? We're not supposed to do that, but if the organizer's doing it...
He and I tracked over to the low guy. He was about 50 feet down and about 200 feet out. Unbeknownst to us, the formation behind us had broken grips and started moving in our direction. More significantly, their fall rate had picked up quite a bit as people dropped to stay with us. That gave the low guy some speed to work with, and he tracked towards the base as fast as he could - and we were now directly between him and the base. The organizer broke left, I went right, and he came rocketing between us at a pretty good clip (30 mph?) we turned around to rejoin the base, which was now a mess (of course.)
Of course, this near-incident was partly caused by slot fixation on the part of the low guy, but it was also partly our fault for not sticking with the plan and being in a known place in the sky.
Anyway, three minor incidents with the best possible outcomes - no one got hurt and I learned from them.