Dave Rhea gives his Skyhook a workout over northern Arizona
Photo Credit: Dave Rhea
You’re as ready as you’ll ever be. Right?
You know what a malfunctioning main looks like. You know the sequence*. You’ve done your homework (like we reviewed last time). Before you pull that handle, though, make sure you know the rest of the story: how to make that reserve ride as un-traumatic an experience as possible.
1. Do not overthink it
If you believe that your main is unlandable, you are going to have a reserve ride. Lots of skydivers have landed under reserves, realizing later that the problem was solvable.
Lots of skydivers have also gone in while striving to sort out malfunctions that did not get solved.
Pick your poison.
2. Do not worry about stability
This is the very least of your problems, as you are on the world’s most intractable timer. Worry ONLY about altitude.
3. Pull the cutaway handle until no lower than 1,000 feet
If your pull is sufficiently low (shame on you for that, by the way--gotta say it) and you have an unlandable main, you’ll be testing your reserve’s opening characteristics in the most potentially lethal way. Take note: the USPA not-so-recently raised the minimum deployment altitude even for eminently experienced D-licensed jumpers. Initiating a reserve ride below 1,000 feet isn’t always deadly, but it has an unnerving tendency to be. Don’t take the chance.
4. Hold on to your handles
...or, y’know, do your best. If you manage it, you’ll save a bit of money, and you’ll save face when you land.
5. Make sure it’s out
Arch and look over your shoulder for the reserve pilot chute. Reserves deploy fast, so this head position may rattle your neck – but if the pilot chute is somehow caught in your burble, this should either shake it loose or make it clear to you that you need to do some burble intervention, stat.
6. Keep an eye on your free-floating main
However: do not try to chase it and grab it in the air. (People have died doing that, bigshot.) Don’t “chase the bag” if it means you’ll land in a dangerous LZ. Use landmarks to get a bead on where the gear is headed, then take a deep breath, leave it to the fates, and prioritize your mortal coil.
7. Remember: Your Cutaway, Your Business
When you land a reserve, you’re going to be the talk of the DZ (for about five minutes, usually). During that five minutes – longer, if the loads are turning slowly – you’ll probably be approached by a gamut of big talkers and would-be mentors, questioning your malfunction and eager to discuss your decision to cut away.
My advice: speak to your trusted mentors and co-jumpers about it in private, and tell the rest to go suck an egg. When you suddenly need to get proactive about saving your life in the sky, make no mistake: you are absolutely alone. In the entire world, there exists only you and two handles. Your cutaway is your business. You were there. They were not.
Review your own footage to determine the nature of the malfunction and review alternative methods of correction, if applicable.
8. Buy a bottle of posh booze for the rigger who packed the reserve you rode, and keep the reserve pin for posterity.
* Arch, look down at your handles, grasp the handles, pull cutaway, pull reserve.