This is a lot of info I have learned over the years about interviewing potential tandem customers and AFF students who are either elderly, or have some disability or medical condition.
I always try to relate the physical aspects of the skydive to that person and what might the consequences be. In particular, the airplane ride, the opening shock and the landing. All of these events have specific physiological effects on people and each person have different risks and will react differently to these effects.
1. What is your height and weight? Obvious question. Do not exceed the weight limits of the gear. For tandems, weigh yourself with gear and everything on to know what your exit weight is going to be.
Most tandem manufacturers have a 500lb (227kg) limit for their gear, so easy math will help you know what YOUR personal maximum tandem student weight is.
Do not exceed the TSO for the AFF students rig. If you do and they get hurt, then that is simply defined as ‘gross negligence’ on your part and the waiver will mean virtually nothing in the case of a lawsuit.
2. Do you have any metal in your body? Most people will know a great deal about accidents or surgeries that they have had and can tell you in great detail about it. A spinal fusion with plates/screws or a rod in a femur does not mean that someone cannot jump – but it might raise other questions about the stability of those joints and the consequences of a hard opening or a bad landing.
But a rod in the lower spine could break several vertebrae if a hard landing occurs with the student landing on their butt, causing serious and/or more permanent injuries.
3. Do you have any artificial joints? The question needs to be asked of everyone. A hip replacement is a dangerous thing for a 70 year-old or 80 year-old candidate. Opening shock alone could dislocate the joint. Knees as well. What is the range of that knee? Can you raise your legs for landing?
4. Do you have any plumbing (catheters, colostomy bags, etc)? (Yes that’s right – I said COLOSTOMY BAG) While this may be awkward for you to talk about, it probably is not awkward for the student or person that might have one. If someone has one of these or similar devices installed, then it is probably as ‘normal’ to them as walking or breathing.
But on a skydive, a catheter or bag can come loose or detach, and at the very least, would be a nasty mess to deal with. A lot of catheters are attached to a bag strapped to their leg. Many can be removed, relocated, drained or emptied prior to a jump.
5. Do you have any other medical apparatus (Pacemaker, insulin pump, etc)? Again, they could have internal or external devices on their body. A pacemaker is often not a big deal. A external defibrillator might be a problem if it became detached during the skydive. Same for an insulin pump or a catheter used to feed medications into their body? Where is it? Will the harness rub against it? Can it be removed, relocated? What are the consequences of something happening to it?
6. Are you taking a medication or something that can be administered by me in an emergency? Something like an asthma inhaler or a diabetic medication. If there is a chance of an asthma attack, then the tandem instructor can take the inhaler with them and administer it if needed.
7. Do you have issues with heart or breathing? Someone with a weak or other heart condition, or congenital breathing problems may not even be able to breath properly at 10,000’ in an airplane. Combine that with the stress of a skydive, and you may end up with a medical emergency. Have they flown recently? What precautions do they take if any? And no, I do not recommend bringing their oxygen system on board the plane.
Can they deal with an accelerated heart rate for an extended period of time? We all know that heart rates can rise to some 140+ just prior to and during the exit out of the airplane. Not everyone is able to handle that if they have some condition related to heart or blood pressure.
8. What if my doctor says it’s OK for me to jump? While that may be good information to know, most doctors know little or nothing about skydiving. If you get the chance, talk to their doctor directly and explain the physical things that happen during a skydive.
The airplane ride (hot, sweaty, cramped space and altitude issues). The adrenaline rush during exit and freefall (heart rate), the opening shock of the parachute, (several G’s of force and the potential for a very hard opening), the parachute ride (vertigo, motion sickness, tight and uncomfortable harness, reduced circulation) and the landing especially (forward motion instead of vertical, and how we can slide in (or not) and what is expected of the student during that phase and what can happen if it does not go well)
9. What will an injury do to your quality of life? I have learned that this is probably one of the most important questions you can ask. An 80 year old with Osteoporosis may be able to skydive, but if they break an ankle, they may never walk again.
Bones may not heal and they could spend the rest of their life in a wheelchair or worse. It is much the same for disabled folks. I always try to get a feel for what would happen to their life if they break something, because it CAN and it DOES happen.
10. Do you have any sort of medical condition that can kill you in a 10-15 minute window? I ask this question as a catch-all. Basically there is a possible 10-15 minute window in the case of a tandem jump, (a high or early activation on a parachute resulting in a long ride down). During that time, the instructor cannot perform CPR, a tracheotomy, or rescue breathing. So if the student has any medical condition that would need to be attended to by emergency means, the tandem instructor is pretty much helpless to intervene during the skydive. If the student has any such condition, then perhaps a skydive is not a good idea.
When in doubt, consult a doctor who IS a skydiver. There are plenty of them out there and most can advise you on the effects of a disease, surgery or medication on the process of skydiving.
Just because the customer is standing in front of you right now and wants to jump right now, is not a reason to take them up. Offer to do some homework on their condition(s) and arrange for a future date to see if they can jump.
I have taken up dozens of elderly, disabled, and paraplegic/quadriplegic students in my life. I have also REFUSED to take up dozens of them. Not everyone is capable of making a skydive. Not everyone should be making a skydive.
David TK Hayes
AFF, Tandem, IAD, S&TA;, Coach, PRO