Canopy collisions

How to avoid them and what to do if you have one


by Fiona McEachern

As the trend to smaller and faster canopies continues the chances of becoming involved in off-heading openings and canopy collisions are increasing. Things happens much faster, you have less time to react to the situation and you should have some form of response ready, just as you do for a malfunction.

Prevention Is Better Than Cure!

Contents

Breakoff

Tracking

is vital to achieve maximum horizontal separation from the rest of the jumpers on your load. Practice tracking whenever you jump (excluding solos on big loads) and always aim to do better with each track. Jumping all over Australia I see a lot of skydivers who do not have a good track. Their tracking skills may be adequate for a four way on a Cessna DZ where their peers know them but are not good enough when they travel to boogies and jump with strangers who may have a similar standard of skill. If you do track well, don't get lazy. Force your best track on every jump and encourage everyone else to do the same.

Load Size

and experience are important in determining when track-off will begin. Don't be afraid to suggest a higher altitude for track-off so that everyone will have enough time to achieve good separation. Overseas, track-off heights, even for experienced flatfly 4-ways are often set at 4000 feet. Make sure you are personally happy with the track-off height suggested and speak out if you want it elevated. Remember, you may have knowledge that the organiser doesn't.

Track all the way to planned opening height.

Stay With Your Load

until it is about time to track. If you have gone low on the formation move to one side and keep trying to regain lost altitude until about 500 feet above track-off then start your track away from the centre of the formation and keep going until your lowest personal safe legal opening height. Too often people who track high from a formation either run into the next group or get sick of tracking, stop and are caught by others on their load.

If you are heading away from the DZ, bad luck, you still need to put your best track forward.

It takes two jumpers to have a collision 
but only one to avoid it

Look, Wave And Pull

This should be self explanatory but some don't do it, thinking their track will have cleared them from others or that the flare out of their track will be enough. If you identify your "neighbours" as you are opening you also have more chance of evasive action if your canopy heads in their direction. Waving is a good habit and can make a difference to your being seen, especially around dusk.

Under Canopy

Stay Height Aware

An action that may be correct at 2000 ft may kill you at 200 ft. Try to recognise different heights where responses change. Heights I try to identify on each and every jump are 1000 ft (lowest cutaway) and 500 ft (reserve only, too low to cutaway).

Check Out The Traffic

Who will be landing at the same time you are? Smaller faster canopies above you and big slow ones beneath you are the ones to keep an eye on as well as the known "spiral through the group " people. Where are the camerafliers? They have restricted vision in many situations so give them plenty of space

Slider And Brakes

Before you release your brakes, pulling on a rear riser will usually avoid or lessen the severity of a collision. You can also steer by weight shifting in your harness.

Make sure you are not going to run into anyone as you fix your slider and take off your brakes.

If there are a lot of others around don't worry about fixing your slider. Let it flap until you are well clear.

Land Safely

If the landing pattern is crowded, land somewhere else. Better to walk a little way than not to be able to. There is very little value in being dead right!

Dusk Loads

can bring their own problems. Boogie goggles, dark canopies, rigs and jumpsuits make it hard to see or be seen so try to identify problems early. You do have options such as landing further away in a clear area or sitting on brakes and being the last one down or spiralling carefully to get down first. You could also consider a lighter colour jumpsuit or canopy next time you are purchasing.

CRW Seminars

can be a good way of learning in a fairly safe environment about canopies and how they perform together, giving you some of the skills you may need to deal with an entanglement. Attend a seminar if the opportunity presents, you may enjoy it.

Doing CRW on small canopies after a rel load is NOT a good idea in most situations since you will often be too low, too crowded or too rushed.

Ostrich Attitudes

Don't be an ostrich with a head-in-the-sand and help others to be anti-ostrich too as it takes two to tangle.

Talk about collisions and think about what you should do, then discuss it with your instructors and others to check just how appropriate it is. Initiate a forum over a wind hold or a few beers in the pub.

Entanglements

So you have done all the right things and you are still in a canopy collision. What should you do?

Have a plan…
…an emergency is not the time to get creative

Minimise The Damage

Hitting in a turn initiated by grabbing a riser can result in a glancing blow. If you are going to hit, get big by spreading your arms and legs. This means you don't go as far through the other lines or canopy.

Check Your Height

Collisions occur at different heights and what to do varies with the height that you entangle. Above 1500 ft. Work out the tangle. Try to get clear of canopy and lines and decide who should cut away first if someone has to. The first person should cut away by 1500 ft.

Above 1000 ft. The second cutaway should be done if necessary. Sometimes the second person can free themselves and their main canopy after the first person has cut away and if the main is undamaged they do not need to take further action.

Stay height aware under canopy and have "check" altitudes.

Below 500 ft. Reserve only. Get some more fabric out there and keep working on the entanglement. Don't cut away as your reserve may not have time to inflate before impact. For example, if you are at 200 ft and someone runs into you, a cutaway would probably be fatal.

Communication

is of prime importance. TALK TO EACH OTHER!! Call out the altitude and discuss what should be done. Each wrap is different so you need to make the best assessment of what is right in your situation. If one can get clear of lines they should probably go first. This is often the high person who may still have a good canopy above them that has been providing some support for you both. Try and think about what would happen if either one cut away first. Would a cut away from the bottom canopy wrap the top person or canopy making it harder for them to get free?

Through Or Back

This choice has to be made on an individual basis. If you can clearly see a way through, it may be wise to go on even though this will always result in a cutaway. If the way back is not far and easy to see, following your lines back may he an option but it is easy even for experienced CRW jumpers to go back the wrong way

RSL

Disconnect before you cutaway? Is there a chance your reserve will also entangle? Do you have a freebag? This should decrease the chance of reserve entanglement but may cause further problems for the other person. Is the time taken to release the RSL worth it?

I feel the first person to leave should disconnect if time allows but the other will probably not need to do so unless they are hoping a cutaway will free them from other lines. Simulate disconnecting your RSL under stress in a suspended harness with someone throwing you around to see how easy it is to do.

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