Aug 5, 2002, 7:42 AM
Post #1 of 11
FF Bigway Breakoff Safety (aka My F@#$-Up)
I'm crossposting this here because I think this messsage really needs to get out...
Yesterday I had what is by far my biggest f#$%-up since I started skydiving.
I'm still rattled by the whole thing, and I still like a complete asshole, but I think it's important that I tell this story so that others won't repeat my mistake. I'm not going to mention folks names, mainly because it's irrelevant.
We were doing a dual tube jump. Tube Jumper #1 & Tube Jumper #2. Six of us then formed a campfire around the tube jumpers.
I was in a sit almost directly behind Tube Jumper #1. Mistake #1.
Our pre-detrmined breakoff was 6k. As the tube jumpers waved off, I took a quick look behind to make sure no one was behind me, then I started my typical sit breakoff by laying out to do a backtrack away. Mistake #2.
What happened next caught me (and obviously the tube jumpers) completely by surprise. As I laid out, instead of tracking away, I drove forward... HARD. I've never had this happen before. About the same time, Tube Jumper #1 started his breakoff. So we were on a really fast collision course. I thought for sure I was either going to hit him or his tube, but by some miracle I managed to miss the tube by inches (my only thought at this point was "get up and to the side"). Literally, if it was 6 inches I'd be amazed.
The force of the slide was so great I even drifted over Tube Jumper #2's space briefly. I went into a track until I was just clear of both tube jumpers and dumped. In retrospect I should have tracked a little longer to get more separation. Mistake #3.
Thank God no one was hurt or worse. It's bad enough to put your own self in danger, but we have a responsibility not to endanger the people that we jump with.
All of this could have been avoided if I had done two things differently....
First, I should not have gotten directly behind either of the tube fliers... though with the wicked forward slide I had it still may have put me on a collision course with one or both of them. Nevertheless, being behind someone with their back to you is definitely a bad place to be.
Most important, I should have done a 1/2 cartwheel into a head down track instead of doing the back layout. Had I done that, I wouldn't have slid toward the tube jumpers and the breakoff would have been fine. I had been advised early on by an instructor to do a back layout when tracking off from a sit, so I got in the habit early. Ramon advocated in the 1/2 cartwheel early on, but since I was already in the habit of doing it the other way, I rarely tried the cartwheel approach. I now see why that is the much safer alternative.
So what I'm trying to say, is if you are in the habit of doing a backtrack out of a sit, seriously reconsider this approach. You may have done a ton just fine, as I had, but it only takes one time at the wrong time & place to make that approach disastrous. Do the 1/2 cartwheel. It's much safer and predictable. And predictability is absolutely critical on FF big ways.
And to both of you tube jumpers, again, there's not a whole lot I can say, other than I'm terribly sorry because I know I royally screwed up and put both of you guys in danger, which is totally unacceptable.
If you transit into headdown and start tracking away you may hit somebody behind your back, although you will avoid hitting somebody in front of you (like that tubediver). On the other hand I saw a hard collision on a big way sit, when one jumpers dytter bipped a second earlier, he transitioned to back (so he only saw the airspace above but not behind him), started to track on his back and impacted with a person 15 feet behind him (it took him a second to get to that person, so there was no time to avoid the collision).
What I do is a 360 degree turn, check the airspace above and below me and track on my back or belly/head depending where the others are. While checking the airspace I maintain the same fallrate as to not cork out.
I've recently heard that a good way to track from a big way is to turn on your head a 180 degrees from the center and track away in a slight back track. This way you see where you go, but it takes practice if you are used to "regular" tracking.
Off the FF topic since the only time I freefly is when I'm unstable this is what I did over the weekend, so please tell me if I did the right thing:
It started out as a 7way and I don't recall an agreement on the breakoff. At 4500 my dytter went off. Instead of turning around to track away, I let go of my grips and waited till everyone who's hanging on to me let go. Then as I turned to track off, I see 3 other people above me and I'm in a pretty tight spot for horizontal seperation. So I stopped my track and waited for the 2nd beep (at 3000). Still I made sure that no one was above me by looking over my shoulders before waving off and pulling.
I know that one should always track away before deploying. But in this case, I stopped my track to let others track away from me because of my position. Is this cool?
I'm just trying to figure out how 4 people from a 7 way belly jump ended up in the same airspace at pull time. If everyone turned 180 from center and tracked away, that just should not have happened.
To answer your question, did you do the right thing? Well, no one got hurt and it sounds like you made the best of a bad situation. But I would have a talk with your group about tracking, and the importance of agreeing upon a safe break off altitude altitude BEFORE you make your skydive, and what to do if you find yourself out of the skydive- low or floating, or just not there, at breakoff.
I'm just trying to figure out how 4 people from a 7 way belly jump ended up in the same airspace at pull time
'Coz I was the center guy in an open accordian with 3 guys behind me (one on each leg, and the third grabbing on to each of the other 2 guy's legs) ,and 3 guys in front of me (one on each arm, and the 3rd guy between the 2).
In reply to:
the importance of agreeing upon a safe break off altitude altitude BEFORE you make your skydive
It's one of them dirt dive in the plane kinda jumps. I know it's bad and there's no excuse and I promise I'll never do it again.
Hey, it's all about learning! This is the "safety and training" forum, so thanks for sharing your story so we can all learn from it!
If you know you are going to end your dive in an odd formation, modify your breakoff accordingly. Its definately something to address in the post dive- you all should have been able to track into clean air. Like I said, I think you handled the situation just fine, but you shouldn't have been in that situation to begin with. Just something to think about! What did the rest of your group say about it after the dive??
By the way, I remember a few really decent fun skydives that were planned as we were boarding the plane!
Like others have said, the "right" thing is sort of situational. Especially when things go wrong.
i will say that I'm glad to hear that you checked your airspace above before dumping. We've had this debate before, but it's situations like this that bears out what I'm saying... yes the low man/woman has the right of way. But I'd rather check above first and be alive than be "right" and dead.
As far as breakoffs go (notwithstanding the above-described screw-up), if I'm in the middle of a big cluster of people (which can happen a fair amount in FF), I'll usually watch where others go and then take an open line.
The only thing I may suggest for the next time is if you see people above you, maybe look to the sides and see if you change headings a bit to find clear airspace.
Of course you belly fliers like to hum it down a lot, so you may not have time to do that.
On a bigger belly formation loads we normally have a few people in the centre do staged openings in place. This reduces the number of trackers in the same airspace. For the center people it really doesnt make much sense to track anywhere far. Just make sure you do not dump all at the same time and allow for the potential malfunctions (and cutaway) of the person opening before you.