Y’know when you don't feel like getting out of bed in the morning? Your main parachute is likely a lot brighter-eyed and bushier-tailed than you are, but every once in a good long while it just doesn't feel like getting out and doing its job. Y’know? Relatable.
Kidding aside: When you throw your hand-deployed pilot chute but the container stays closed -- trapping the main deployment bag inside, helpless to deliver you a parachute -- you’ve gotchaself a pilot-chute-in-tow. In other words: you’ve got nothing out, which makes you the clenchy, concerned (and hopefully very temporary) owner of a high-speed mal.
You’d better get on that, buddy. Stat.
Deploy the reserve immediately or cut away first and then deploy the reserve?
One Handle or Two Handles: The Cagematch
If you’re not sure which you’d choose,* you’re certainly not the first. This particular point has been the subject of roaring contention since the invention of the BOC, my friends. (Guaranteed: the comments section below will corroborate my statement. I can sense people sharpening their claymores and dunking their arrows in poison even now.)
There’s a school that says -- well, duh -- get your damn reserve out, like right now what are you waiting for. There’s another school that calls that school a bunch of mouth-breathing pasteeaters. The latter group insists that you'd better go through the procedures you know lest you mess it up when it counts. They usually follow up by spitting on a photograph of the first group’s mother and wondering aloud why the first group is even allowed to skydive. Then they start punching each other.
The USPA Skydiver’s Information Manual doesn’t make a move to break up the fight. It stands clear of the flying arms and legs and says, “Y’know -- they both kinda have a point.” Section 5-1 of the manual says this, verbatim:
“Procedure 1: Pull the reserve immediately. A pilot-chute-in-tow malfunction is associated with a high descent rate and requires immediate action. The chance of a main-reserve entanglement is slim, and valuable time and altitude could be lost by initiating a cutaway prior to deploying the reserve. Be prepared to cut away.
“Procedure 2: Cut away, then immediately deploy the reserve. Because there is a chance the main could deploy during or as a result of reserve activation, a cutaway might be the best response in some situations.”
Let’s look a little closer at the options, then, shall we?
Option One: Not Even Gonna Bother With That Cutaway Handle.
- Pro: Immediately yanking out that reserve saves a step. When AGL counts (and golly, doesn’t it?), saving a step can save a life. Many skydivers are quick to point out specific incidents in which jumpers with PCiTs have gone in with sealed magical backpacks, having failed to pull both handles (or pull any handle at all) while the clock was ticking. Gulp.
- Con: It takes the pressure off (in a potentially bad way). As the reserve leaves the container, there’s a chance that it can take the sealing pressure off the flaps that are keeping the main container closed. The main can then leap to freedom and deploy at the same time as the reserve. At this point, you might wind up with an entanglement, a side-by-side, biplane or downplane to figure out.**
Option Two: Get Off The Field, Main Parachute. Reserve, You’re In!
- Pro: It’s the same stuff you’ve been taught to do for every other reserve-requisite malfunction. ...If you initiate the reserve deployment clearly, confidently, and as early as possible, of course. After all: making a one-off exception for a single kind of malfunction can be tricky. A jumper might well spend a little too much time thinking it over (‘Am I going for my reserve handle first right now? ‘Cause that’s weird. Is that okay?’) when they should just be yanking the stuffing out of their emergency handles. Going through the real-life motions of the little dance you do before you get on every load makes more sense to your body, for sure.
- Con: You’re adding more complexity to the situation than you may realize. Especially if you don’t have secure riser covers, the (jealous?) cut-away main risers might sneak out of the container and grab for the reserve as it deploys. Another thing: the main is very likely to wiggle free, detach from the harness as soon as it catches air and do its best to entangle with your Option B. The latter kerfuffle is made much more likely when you add a single-sided reserve static line to the mix, turning the already-dismaying situation into something of a tug-of-war.
Neither of these choices sounds like the cherry on top of a lovely afternoon; I know. At some point, however, you may be forced to make one. If you do, you’d better have a plan in mind.
Not in the mood to make that choice? Me neither. Luckily, there are some steps you can take to better your chances of never seeing a PCiT -- and in next week’s article, I’ll tell you what they are.
*If you have a Racer (or any container with a cross-connected RSL), you do not have a choice. You must pull the reserve without cutting away. Do not pass ‘go,’ do not collect $200. In that particular configuration, the main will choke off the reserve if the cutaway has been pulled. If this unnerves you, get thee to a rigger to discuss it.
**Head over the PIA.com to check out a handy study they did in 1997 regarding the management of two-out situations. It’s called the “Dual Square Report.”