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AtrusBatleth

What if you cannot see your canopy? Loose harness restricts moving head

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I thought I would share my experience because I have not read of this happening to anyone else (maybe I'm just not searching well enough). I am new to this sport, with only 3 tandems and 1 jump on my own gear (AFP Level 1). I will not be offended if you tell me I did something extremely stupid. I'm trying to learn from my mistakes.

On my AFP Level 1 jump I was wearing a 270 harness (I weigh 235), jumpsuit, thick gloves (it was reported to be pretty cold at altitude), and a student helmet that covered my ears. The helmet was a rather tight fit and restricted my field of view but it was the only style I could find. My instructor helped me put on my pack and checked my harness, after which he did tighten the leg straps. I was told to thread my chest strap which I did, then my instructor said it was too tight. Evidently, my leg straps were still too loose but I did not realize this and it was not noticed on the ground or in the plane (or they came loose during free fall, which I was told can happen sometimes).

I had a very uneventful free fall and pulled at 5500 ft as planned. I felt my canopy deploy right away, and I proceeded to start my 4S check (Square, Straight lines, Slider down, Steerability). Unfortunately I could not move my head. My helmet felt as if it were locked in place, unable to move it up, down, or even side to side. My chin strap was digging into me quite a bit tighter then I remember when putting it on. No matter how much I strained, I could not move my head to look up, so I could not see the canopy, slider, lines, or toggles. The helmet was blocking my field of view so I essentially had tunnel vision. When I tried to look up I could feel my helmet hitting a solid wall behind me which I assume was my container. After a brief panic and mental expletives, I checked altitude and was somewhere around 4000 ft. I had time. I reached up and tried grabbing both risers to lift myself up, hoping to free my head enough to check the canopy, maybe even look to see what the hell had happened with my harness. It didn't work, no matter how hard I tried pulling myself up (although I can't do a pull up on the ground). While I was lifting up on the risers, I noticed myself spinning slowly and felt myself recover from a line twist. Since I could not see the lines, I had no idea I even had a line twist; fortunately it fixed itself. Since my helmet was restricting so much of my view, I decided to try to remove it. However it was cutting into my chin so much and I could not handle the strap release with the thick gloves I had on that I eventually gave up. It never occurred to me to take my gloves off, although my altimeter was secured to my finger so I don't think I would have risked dropping my altimeter to take my gloves off.

I knew I had a problem, but this was not a scenario that was covered in any of my training. Every malfunction scenario assumes you can check your canopy. I was on my own. I could not verify if I had a good canopy and I started to seriously consider emergency procedures. My altitude was 3000-4000 ft, so I decided I still had time to try to fix this. I tried releasing the toggles, but since I could not see them I was trying to find them by touch. I could not find them through my gloves, and I was starting to wonder if they were too high for me to reach since my container was up behind my head. I remembered that if I had to, I could pull on the rear risers to safetly land. I sucessfully flared pulling on the rear risers, which was a huge relief to me. My altitude was still above 3000 ft, so I made another attempt to locate my toggles which was successful. Using the toggles I did another successful flare, and checked right and left turns. I was concerned that I could not look where I was turning to check for traffic since I could not move my head, and the helmet blocked my peripheral vision, so I made gentle turns just in case. It was like driving a car in the winter where you've only scraped off that little bit if ice directly in front of you due to laziness. By this time I was about 2500-3000 ft and I decided I had a good landable canopy even though I could not see any of it.

By now I was starting to half hear the radio commands from my instructor, which I was grateful for. I was wishing I could radio back to tell him the problems I was having, but I did not want to risk losing my grip on my toggles to key the radio. I could not move my head enough to look straight down, so it was difficult to see exactly where I was or look to the sides for where I wanted to be. I just followed the radio guidance and checked my altitude, although I didn't make out the calls to turn left to final approach until I had overshot the landing field, so I ended up landing right at the end of the runway/taxiway, but at least I landed safely. Still, not the experience I was hoping for in my first solo canopy flight. Because I landed so far from my instructor, he didn't get a good shot of my landing. I was hoping to see from the video exactly what had happened with my harness to restrict my helmet so bad. I was told my leg straps were probably too loose or came loose during free fall which led to me sitting very low relative to my container. In hindsight, I wonder if the shoulder straps from the container had come up and snagged on the helmet pulling it up from the back. This could have been why I felt the chin strap so tight, and why my field of view was so limited above me (the helmet may have tipped forward slightly). Maybe I was even hanging a bit from my helmet chin strap. I also think the chest strap may have been up a little high, but I don't remember it cutting into my chin, then again it was a bit of a blur so maybe that was the chest strap digging into my neck and not the helmet strap. Another thing that only occurred to me later is that if I had decided to do emergency procedures it would not have made any difference, since I would have had the same harness/container position that was blocking my movement.

The lesson learned, as best as I can tell as a newbie, is make sure your leg straps are tight! However, I am curious if others would have reacted differently if presented with the same problem. Has anyone else even heard of this scenario happening before?

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Pretty much the same thing happened to me on jump number 9 or 10. I grabbed a student canopy that had adjustable main lift webs. They were normally set at a specific length and the excess was tacked, but I didn't realize a more experienced, and taller, jumper had snipped the tacking and loosened them. I put the rig on and tightened it up and it felt right. The leg straps were tight, chest strap snug, everything felt good.

When I deployed, the chest strap ended up jamed under my chin. My helmet was caught between that and the yoke and my neck was stretched out a little. Couldn't look up or down, and could barely look side to side.

Luckily there was a canopy course going on at my DZ that weekend and I had been eavesdropping on their ground classes, so I had the wherewithal to undo the chest strap completely to free up my head, and check my stall point. The stall point was a good check because hanging low in the saddle, I was stalling out by 3/4 brakes, so if I had tried my normal full flare, I would have come in pretty hard.

So all of this because the main lift web had been adjusted by about 2 inches. So based off my limited expirience, I'd say you were in a similar harness that was not adjusted properly to you, or you are on the short end of the spectrum for that harness size and maybe leg strap tightness as well.

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Yes, this sounds exactly like what happened to me! Of course I don't know which part is the yoke or main lift webs. I thought the legs and chest were the only things to adjust. I'll have to ask about this next time I'm at the DZ. I think I'll have to use the same harness to get the 0.8 ratio they want for students (and I'm not even meeting that), so I'll have to get more familiar with adjusting it.

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Dokeman

We're your leg straps looser when you landed than when you boarded the plane?



I honestly have no idea. I was too preoccupied with deflating my canopy, not dragging my canopy, and not getting runover by a plane. Oh, and thankful I didn't land in a corn field or break my ankles. My instructor helped me out of my harness before I thought to compare how the legs felt, and I was just happy to get that wretched helmet off my head.

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I've seen virtually exactly the same thing happen before. Chap exited on an early freefall jump in static line progression. Was seen from the plane to have a good canopy then a few moments later he cut away for no apparent reason and landed under his reserve.

I chatted to him later on the ground and he said when the canopy opened the container shifted upwards on his back and pushed the back of his helmet up so that the front came down over his eyes, blindfolding him. He thought everything felt like it had opened fine but as he couldn't look to check canopy he thought "better safe than sorry" and performed his reserve drills. :S

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mr2mk1g

I've seen virtually exactly the same thing happen before. Chap exited on an early freefall jump in static line progression. Was seen from the plane to have a good canopy then a few moments later he cut away for no apparent reason and landed under his reserve.

I chatted to him later on the ground and he said when the canopy opened the container shifted upwards on his back and pushed the back of his helmet up so that the front came down over his eyes, blindfolding him. He thought everything felt like it had opened fine but as he couldn't look to check canopy he thought "better safe than sorry" and performed his reserve drills. :S



Hm, I'm curious, did his cutaway do anything to fix his position?

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AtrusBatleth

***I've seen virtually exactly the same thing happen before. Chap exited on an early freefall jump in static line progression. Was seen from the plane to have a good canopy then a few moments later he cut away for no apparent reason and landed under his reserve.

I chatted to him later on the ground and he said when the canopy opened the container shifted upwards on his back and pushed the back of his helmet up so that the front came down over his eyes, blindfolding him. He thought everything felt like it had opened fine but as he couldn't look to check canopy he thought "better safe than sorry" and performed his reserve drills. :S



Hm, I'm curious, did his cutaway do anything to fix his position?

In my situation, definitely not. It would have only given me a second opertunity to bite threw my tongue when the chest strap popped me in the chin again. That and ditch a fully functional canopy (a sure thing by this point) in hopes that the reserve opens with no problems.

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Have you spoken to your instructor about this, what did they say?

As other people have said it sounds like a combination of a poorly fitted gear that should hopefully be picked up before you board the plane

Make sure YOU are happy with the gear before your next skydive

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DHemer

Have you spoken to your instructor about this, what did they say?

As other people have said it sounds like a combination of a poorly fitted gear that should hopefully be picked up before you board the plane

Make sure YOU are happy with the gear before your next skydive


Yes, he thought it was loose leg straps (as said in the post). At the time, I was happy with the gear. It was my first time wearing my own parachute and I guess I didn't appreciate what could happen if it wasn't fitted properly. I definitely will be checking the fit more before I am happy with the gear next time.

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Nope - still blindfolded and just as unable to canopy check his reserve as he was his main. It wouldn't have been my choice of action.

When it comes to legstraps, tight is right. Just make sure they're not so tight as to be cutting off your circulation and whatever kind of junk you have isn't caught under them.

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First off, maybe the moderators might consider moving this to the instructor threads, as this could be valuable reading for anyone that works with students.
The potential chain;
1. thick gloves, not ever appropriate for students, not usually for even experienced jumpers. I jump in Minnesota/North Dakota and never wear anything thick. It's not THAT cold.
2. Helmet that doesn't fit/restricts vision. Don't know what kind of helmet (most student helmets are just regular Pro-Tec, and while they might not always fit well, they normally don't restrict your vision).
3. Improper harness fit/adjustment. My guess is the laterals were out of adjustment rather than the leg straps. I usually have my students bend at the waist 90 degrees with hands on their knees (no, don't go there) after gear up and push the rig towards their head. This will show real quick if the laterals are too loose.
4. All this combined meant the student couldn't inspect their canopy, couldn't see their toggles, couldn't even look down (I assume this also means that he couldn't look at his reserve handles) couldn't feel well enough through his gloves to unsnap his helmet or initially find his toggles, which also means he would have had problems even feeling for his handles.

Add something as simple as a toggle fire to this and we could have an incident report rather than a DZ.com thread.
Would that last line have read "student didn't respond to the situation and initiate EP's" because no one could figure out the rest of the story?
This is the paradox of skydiving. We do something very dangerous, expose ourselves to a totally unnecesary risk, and then spend our time trying to make it safer.

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OP sounds like your harness was too long.
Ask a local instructor to show you how to adjust a student harness.

The simplest harnesses only have 3 adjustments: chest and 2 leg straps.

Many student harnesses also have adjustable main lift webs to compensate for taller or shorter students. MLW adjustment buckles are usually just above the hip joint. When adjusting MLWs, the most important thing is symmetry.

A few student harnesses also have adjustable lateral straps to compensate for students of differing girth. Buckles (for adjusting laterals) are usually just behind the hip joint.

Leg straps rarely slip in freefall. If they do slip in freefall, hand that harness to a rigger and refuse to jump it again until the rigger fixes it. Far more likely that you leg straps shifted when you sat and wiggled around in the airplane. Most likely, the leg straps shifted towards your knees.
Again, ask a local instructor to explain "3 of 3 checks" that you should do to your own harness 3 minutes before exit.

USPA recommends that students wear gloves when temperatures (at exit altitude) approach freezing.
The key is wearing the thinnest gloves that will keep warm blood flowing to your fingertips. Even thin leather gloves will keep hands warm in freefall.
Thin leather still allows people to find handles by feel.

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ufk22


The potential chain;
1. thick gloves, not ever appropriate for students, not usually for even experienced jumpers. I jump in Minnesota/North Dakota and never wear anything thick. It's not THAT cold.
2. Helmet that doesn't fit/restricts vision. Don't know what kind of helmet (most student helmets are just regular Pro-Tec, and while they might not always fit well, they normally don't restrict your vision).
3. Improper harness fit/adjustment. My guess is the laterals were out of adjustment rather than the leg straps. I usually have my students bend at the waist 90 degrees with hands on their knees (no, don't go there) after gear up and push the rig towards their head. This will show real quick if the laterals are too loose.
4. All this combined meant the student couldn't inspect their canopy, couldn't see their toggles, couldn't even look down (I assume this also means that he couldn't look at his reserve handles) couldn't feel well enough through his gloves to unsnap his helmet or initially find his toggles, which also means he would have had problems even feeling for his handles.

Add something as simple as a toggle fire to this and we could have an incident report rather than a DZ.com thread.
Would that last line have read "student didn't respond to the situation and initiate EP's" because no one could figure out the rest of the story?



I must confess something about the gloves that I'm not proud of. I was at the DZ the previous day and got bit by something on my pinky finger (maybe spider, never confirmed). My finger swelled up for a few hours, throbbing pain, couldn't make a fist. I was grounded due to winds anyway but I would not have jumped in that condition. Next day, the finger felt fine except when it got cold (washing my hands, car vent, etc) a sharp pain would return. I convinced myself it was good enough, but when hearing it was a little cold at altitude I asked for gloves. I was concerned the cold air during free fall would bring back the sharp pain and I would fumble throwing my pilot chute or gripping the toggles (it was my right hand). If I was that concerned about my hand I should have stayed on the ground.

As for the other gear, I have since jumped with a different helmet that only covers the top half of my head, fits better and improves visibility. I was able to get my harness better adjusted with my instructors help so I can move my head. The chest strap still comes up to my chin and it's not a comfortable canopy ride, but at least it is functional and safe, and there's not much more adjustment that can be made on this student harness for my body shape. I don't jump with gloves anymore.

I don't recall on the first canopy flight if I could see my EP handles, but I know when I considered it I felt for them to reassure myself. They taught me the grab with 2 hands method, but if I didn't feel comfortable seeing the reserve cord I would have put one hand on each and then pulled (keep in mind there is also the RSL). I'm just trying to say if there had been some other malfunction and I was in a hard turn I am confident I could have done EP even if blind. Also I was altitude aware the entire time.
Max Peck
What's the point of having top secret code names, fellas, if we ain't gonna use 'em?

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Sorry for terminology mistake, should have said " main lift web" adjustment.
My point, however, was that in every incident, there is usually a chain of events rather than one specific thing. You had three links. This is not directed at you (even though ultimately YOU are responsible to save your own life) but rather at all people with instructional ratings out there.
You were put up with improper gloves, badly fitted helmet and a misadjusted harness. Add a rapidly spinning canopy (which would lock you even lower into the harness) and you wouldn't be able to see if it was just a brake fire and would have to feel (through thick gloves) for your handles, which would be much higher on your chest than where you'd practiced.
I'm not saying you couldn't have done it, just that it would be much more difficult because of things that could have been avoided.
Gear checks matter.
Proper equipment matters.
Break the chain.
[url]http://www.dropzone.com/cgi-bin/forum/gforum.cgi?do=post_view_flat;post=4758552;page=1;sb=post_latest_reply;so=ASC;mh=25;
This is the paradox of skydiving. We do something very dangerous, expose ourselves to a totally unnecesary risk, and then spend our time trying to make it safer.

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i was thaught one hand on each handle first, then pull in sequence. i prefer that teaching to what you were thaught, but that is up to your instructors discretion.

***shrug***

:)
“Some may never live, but the crazy never die.”
-Hunter S. Thompson
"No. Try not. Do... or do not. There is no try."
-Yoda

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I had a similar situation last week where I had a hard opening and my head was pinned down to my chest. I started spinning faster and faster and decided to chop it after a few seconds. I figure if I can't check it to see if it's working right then it's gone.

Had an uneventful reserve ride.

I think I had real bad line twists right down to my risers that was pinning my head down and I couldn't fix it. So it was one, two fuck you!

First chop and I missed the night jumps but oh well, I made it so I'm cool with it. :)

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AtrusBatleth


The chest strap still comes up to my chin and it's not a comfortable canopy ride, but at least it is functional and safe, and there's not much more adjustment that can be made on this student harness for my body shape.



Can you explain your body type to us? Height and weight, athletic or round etc.?

a chest strap coming up to your chin is not safe in my opinion...

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Hmmm without a ground check of the gear it's hard to be sure what happened but I can share what happened to me.

I had tuck tabs added to my really old Javelin and when I had packed my rig(yes I actually used to pack way way way back when) I had tucked them in a way they did not come untucked on opening and the rig pinned my head to my chest.

I went through all kinds of scenarios in my head and ended up deciding on landing using my rears because I couldn't reach my toggles either but since I had no idea what was happening but I knew I was flying stable I didn't want to take a bad situation and make it worse.

It was immediately apparent what happened but I had considerably more jumps then one and it was my own gear so I knew to check it when I landed to see what happened and to make sure it didn't happen again.

Good Job not dying/getting hurt but I am more considered that your AFFI didn't catch it if it was a harness issue. Now if it was a ragged out harness and it "slipped" after being properly adjusted by your AFFI(its their job on level 1 to make sure) then the DZ needs to have that rig removed from service until it has been checked and repaired so that it doesn't "slip" as the gear is designed not to do that.

Again no way to know for sure about anything from an internet post but it isn't air gremlins that got you something serious was missed and there is no excuse for it on a Level 1 jump. You have way more as a student to worry about then adding REAL gear fear to the equation

MAKE EVERY DAY COUNT
Life is Short and we never know how long we are going to have. We must live life to the fullest EVERY DAY. Everything we do should have a greater purpose.

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-ftp-

***
The chest strap still comes up to my chin and it's not a comfortable canopy ride, but at least it is functional and safe, and there's not much more adjustment that can be made on this student harness for my body shape.



Can you explain your body type to us? Height and weight, athletic or round etc.?

a chest strap coming up to your chin is not safe in my opinion...

Perhaps I should clarify the chest strap now comes up to my neck, i.e. below my chin if I point my head down. It no longer digs into my neck/jaw, but when I look down I can feel the radio on the strap by my neck (I can pin it down with my jaw). I'm not sure I understand how this is not safe. I thought the chest strap ensures the pack stays on while you pitch to a legs-down position: mission accomplished.

It was the lift Web adjustment that improved the fit. I've done 6 jumps on the same harness now and the last 5 have been much better since shortening the webbing and making sure my leg straps are tight (I'm not convinced they were tight enough the 1st time, but I was too foolish to check this after landing). I might shorten the webbing a little more next time but the pack is difficult to get on my shoulders already so I can't go a lot shorter. As for my build, I'm 5'-11", 235 lb, waist size 38 or so. I'm a regular runner but I still carry some extra weight around the belly, so I would describe myself as more round than athletic (I'm working on it). My upper body somewhat resembles a linebacker (I think; I'm not big on football, but I have broad shoulders).
Max Peck
What's the point of having top secret code names, fellas, if we ain't gonna use 'em?

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AtrusBatleth

I'm not sure I understand how this is not safe. I thought the chest strap ensures the pack stays on while you pitch to a legs-down position: mission accomplished.



You should be talking to instructors/riggers about these things and not us just an FYI.

The chest strap is to hold the shoulder straps together during deployment so that you don't fall out of your harness forward on deployment. However if yours is coming up that high, whats to say on a hard opening your chest strap doesn't come up super fast and hit you up under your chin causing you to bite through your tongue? or even worse...

The point is for the gear to be as safe as possible it needs to fit properly, I know you are using student gear, but you should really seek properly fitting gear. Have you talked to the DZ about this?

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-ftp-

You should be talking to instructors/riggers about these things and not us just an FYI.


I am, I just ask questions here in between visits to the DZ. I work in the nuclear industry and am accustomed to publishing my failings and near misses so others can benefit. Plus this forum gave me a couple ideas for questions I might not have thought to ask, so I have benefited as well. Thanks for the advice.
Max Peck
What's the point of having top secret code names, fellas, if we ain't gonna use 'em?

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I was finally going through some of the pictures my wife took during one of her visits to the DZ and came across a pretty good shot showing what my harness looks like. This is after jumping several times and shortening the webbing, fitting about as good as I could get it. As I said, the chest strap is still coming up pretty high (the radio below my chin is rubber-banded to the chest strap), but not digging into my chin at least.
Max Peck
What's the point of having top secret code names, fellas, if we ain't gonna use 'em?

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