Well those were two interesting jumps today that I’ll forever be cursing my decision to take my camera off for.
Jump 1: a 2way freefly jump with a Perris Load Organiser/coach. I took my camera off as I thought there’d be no point videoing a LO and he’ll have video of me which is the more important thing. 🙂
Exit went well, and we were in pretty good proximity for a low experienced freeflyer like myself. At about 9k I noticed something flapping on the side of his container. It was a side flap and I could see the grommet.
That doesn’t look right I thought to myself. My mind was focussed on the skydive, freefly is pretty difficult for me and I was going to make this jump work. My thought process slowly detached from my body position and I thought through what could be making one of his side flaps flap in freefall. “The pin must no longer be holding it in”. Holy shit. “That’s a BAD thing!”
I needed to communicate to Carsen that he needed to transition to his belly and deploy immediately.
I’m an AFF Instructor so I used the signal we give to students. I showed him my fore finger, I pointed, whatever you want to call it. I gave him the international freefall sign to pull. Dude, you need to do something. Immediately.
His response to me “pointing” at him? “Yeah dude” and an even bigger grin.
What else can I do? OK wave arms as if on break off. A quizzical look but no response.
Finally I played my last card I showed him what I wanted him to do by doing it myself. I transitioned onto my belly and waved my arms to indicate break off and deploy.
Nothing. So I kept waving.
At 5k, as per the plan, he was supposed to video my track and at 4.5k he rolled onto his back to track off.
The bag came out and bounced down his legs, the pilot chute came out and wrapped round his foot. He rolled onto his belly and the entanglement cleared. The canopy showed no signs of opening and he went for his reserve drills.
The skyhook opened the reserve super quickly and I breathed a sigh of relief.
I deployed uneventfully and checked my airspace and position. I turned to face the DZ.
Priority #1 after a malfunction is to land safely. Getting your gear back is secondary. The “bad-spot” guys at Perris drive round in pick up trucks so that you don’t have to walk back in the hot sun. They are so experienced at collecting cutaway gear from malfunctions that the gear is often back before the skydiver.
Except we were deep. A long way from the intended landing area. And I realised they wouldn’t be able to watch it all the way down and find it so quickly. I turned to follow Carson’s gear down but I couldn’t see it again.
I landed uneventfully close to the grass area.
Carson later told me on the ground that he couldn’t understand what I was doing. That the single finger instruction meant nothing to him. He’s an experienced skydiver with over a thousand jumps. He hasn’t been in a situation where he’d need to recognise that signal in five years since his AFF course.
However, as soon as he flipped onto his back and felt something on his legs he knew exactly what I’d been trying to say.
From the video footage Carson was able to work out which field he opened over and his gear was found relatively easy. He’ll be back jumping when his rig is ready to go again, probably Saturday.
Jump 2: Another 2way sitfly jump, this time with Janis. Uneventful. Upon deployment I found myself a little low and on level with my buddy H. We got to within 50 feet of each other under canopy and did some turns around each other in a small spiral. Awesome visuals. Awesome fun. About 1500 feet the other canopies in the group were starting to get get close so we stopped. Plus that’s the altitude at Perris that you have to stop doing turns greater than 90deg at. All was good.
H is heavier and on a (slightly) smaller canopy than me and he fell away. We set up into a normal landing pattern when I saw him do a 180deg turn and head away from the landing. I was puzzled until I looked at the landing area and saw a dust devil emerge. Dust devils are mini-tornados caused by the intense heat. Over grass they are invisible but over the desert they suck up the dust and are very clear. They are areas of very low pressure and anybody that flies into one under canopy has a bad time. They can be killers.
H had made a sensible decision and was heading off away from it.
I was higher and further over, if I followed H I could see that the dust devil was headed across my path.
I was experiencing some unusual wind conditions myself. I know exactly my three turn points I need to be at 1200, 700 and 320 feet to make a nice landing on the grass.
I wasn’t quite at point 1 when I hit 1200 feet, no problem, head for point 2 and cut the corner to lose less altitude than normal. Except I hit point 2 at 1000 feet. I hadn’t lost much altitude at all and now I was much closer to the landing area.
Ok, this is weird, I must have hit a thermal but I’ll take a long base leg and swing out wide to scrub off that altitude. Also, bonus, it allows even more time for the dust devil to travel away from me.
I lined up and saw that I was motoring across the ground, even though I was far away I estimated that I’d hit the middle of the grass. At 75 feet or so I realised I was going to fall short.
Moments later my canopy is turning to the right and I’m having to correct.
No problem. This has all happened to me before and you just fly through any turbulence or crosswinds. I’m the pilot, the canopy does what I tell it to. The UK can be a windy place. I’m used to this. I got this. Plus I’ve just done ten jumps with a canopy pilot coach only two days before. I got this.
At 30 feet I’m descending rapidly, my forward speed appears to be picking up again and my alarm bells start ringing.
I flare, adrenaline has kicked in and I’m a bit high but that’s OK, it was a partial flare, I’ve some toggle stroke left. I got this.
I’m still coming down rapidly though so I punch out the last of my flare and prepare to land.
It doesn’t feel like anything happened and I hit the hard packed ground a couple of metres shy of the grass. And I hit it hard and fast.
PHOTO 1 - The marks I left in the hard packed ground after my landing just shy of the intended soft grass landing area. D’oh.
I rolled and got to my knees as quickly as I could. I wanted to show DZ Control that I wasn’t hurt and they didn’t need to come running but damn. It hurt. I stayed on one knee for a few seconds and a bad spot guy in his golf cart was almost immediately on the scene to ask if I was OK. Quickly followed by another.
I caught my breath, declined the offer of a lift and then walked back in gingerly.
I believe I have some control over every situation I’m in. If something goes awry I look to see what I could have done differently. I take responsibility for everything. I’m like this in all aspects of my life and it can lead to being hard on myself, too hard.
I was furious with myself for falling over and having a ‘hurty’ landing. However both the bad spot guys were talking about the strong and sudden wind conditions, about the dust devil that just went through and seemed to be talking as if hitting the dirt hard was my only option. I didn’t believe them though.
As I got back to the packing mat Janis came over to ask if I was ok as her packer told me I’d hit the tail of the dust devil. I started to be less severe on myself. Multiple sources absolving me from blame. I thought I’d given the devil ample room and made the best decision possible. But I guess not. :-/
At that point, I decided I’d had enough excitement for one day so I stopped jumping and went for a cuppa. I live to fight (gravity) another day.