|The reaper flies with us on every load!|
by Martin Evans - firstname.lastname@example.org
My wife Tracey and I both jump exclusively pullout deployment systems. There are a number of reasons why this is our system of choice but the overriding reason is to eliminate as fully as possible the likelihood of experiencing what *we* both consider the most horrific and frightening malfunction to be faced with, a pilot chute in tow!
Well, after having made more than 7,200 jumps with a pullout and having had a number of reserve rides of various descriptions, yesterday the *big one* caught up with Tracey. Pitching out after tracking away from her AFF student she failed to achieve main deployment. Looking over her shoulder she saw the bridle out and dragging a totally uninflated pilot chute! After repeatedly elbowing her container from both sides and then trying to reach back around and pull the bag from the container unsuccessfully she had no choice but to bite the bullet and deploy her reserve, hoping like hell that the reserve would deploy past her trailing bridle and useless pilot chute. Thankfully this is what occurred, and as the reserve deployed easing tension of the main pack tray, the main bag and its contents came out and fell to the ground.
Tracey got a bead on the freebag and bridle but was unable to spot her bagged main dropping away, her AFF instructor partner who had watched the events unfold had a rough idea of where it had gone down but hadn't actually seen it land. Of course as sods law would have it (and being an AFF jump) they were last out of the aircraft and there was no one else to spot it fall, either from the air or the ground, so we started the search for it rather blindly amongst the corn and wheat fields in the general area of where we believed it to be.
After an hour or so of searching and with the sun beginning to set, we were making our way back to our vehicles. While one of our number had arrived back at his truck and could see the rest of us way off in the distance slowly making our way back, he decided to take another quick look in the general area around where our vehicles were parked and, wonder of wonders, there it was laying in amongst the peas not 50 yards from our vehicles!
So we had the freebag, handles and now the main, so that was great. Now it was time to determine as best we could why the pilot chute appeared to be collapsed at deployment and failed to extract the bag from the container. I believe I was probably not alone in thinking that (an obvious conclusion) the pilot chute could not have been cocked, despite our packers insistence that it had! Well, we found that the pilot chute had somehow become knotted through itself/choked off by the bridle, we untangled the pilot chute and stretched it out and determined that the pilot chute was definitely cocked. How the pilot chute become entangled in itself and the bridle, however, is open to speculation. When I pack for myself I am very methodical and have a specific way of placing the bridle in the container to separate it from the pilot chute to ensure as best I can, that the pilot chute is ahead of the bridle coming out of the container, others may not do so!
We can second guess what happened over and over 'til the cows come home but we'll never know for sure why this happened, although it's virtually impossible to experience a pilot chute in tow while using a pullout system. But this incident shows that it can and may happen at any time.
The moral of the story is, I guess, that although you may think that you have all your bases covered, shit happens and we are never more than moments away from sudden death or injury. You enter this realm at your peril! There ain't nothing gonna save you but you yourself when the shit hits the fan. All the toys and gadgets in the world ain't worth diddly if your brain and senses aren't finely attuned to the environment you have placed yourself in. The Reaper flies with us on every load, stay alert and beat that bastard!
NOTE: As this incident occurred following an AFF instructional jump, Tracey initiated her main deployment around 3,000 feet. This gave her a few seconds longer to attempt to dislodge the bag from the container. She tells me that at 1,800 feet she then initiated reserve deployment and was under canopy by 1,500ft. Always be careful that you do not ever get so wrapped up in a situation that you may find yourself in, however unlikely that particular incident may be to the equipment you are using, that you fail to keep track of your altitude and initiate reserve deployment at a safe altitude. Sometimes in this game we play you just gotta go for broke!