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benlangfeld

First cut-away: how do I do better next time?

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I had my first cutaway today on jump #66, with a Silhouette 190, rented rig. On opening (pitched at 5k, where video shows me stable and horizontal), I encountered line twists that seemed to bounce me from one side to the other before winding out of their own accord after a few seconds. As soon as the twist was out, the canopy got into a sharp left spin, which I tried to control with rear risers without success. After 3 or 4 seconds the canopy went to the horizon and I stopped looking for ways to recover it, and went straight to EPs (no RSL, lost the cutaway handle when the reserve handle seemed not to want to come out from the pocket and I added my right hand to help).

I did not look at my alti once open, because everything happened very fast. I have seen a bunch of incident reports citing failure to execute EPs early enough as contributing factors, I was stressed and my heart was racing and the problem wasn’t obvious, so I cut away without a second thought.

Once I established my reserve was functional, albeit with the appearance of a postage stamp (PDR 160, having never jumped anything less than a 190 despite much encouragement), I began to focus entirely on traffic avoidance and eliminating any action that might put plan B in jeopardy. In that process, I lost sight of the main.

Once on the ground and sat down, I became very disappointed in my response to the situation. It was very likely a popped toggle, and I feel like I should have been able to identify it, at which point the solution is trivial, but in the heat of the moment in unfamiliar territory (never had more than low speed line twists before) I decided that I distinctly did not like what was happening and didn’t want to give it much time to find out how much worse it might get.

I was under my reserve by 3k, my normal pull altitude, and so was easily able to land in the normal landing area with light traffic.

From those who have already encountered a bunch of malfunctions, I’d like to know this: is there anything I can do to improve my response to this situation, in order to prevent a potentially unnecessary cut-away like this in the future? I’ve done hanging harness drills with positive feedback from my instructor, with the exception of executing EPs before she could tell me to wait because she wanted to show me one more photo before I actually did it and had to re-set the gear.

The main is potentially lost, having been spotted heading over houses, and I feel guilty for having caused a fuss that could potentially have been avoided if I had been calm enough to spot a popped toggle (if it indeed was that).

How can I improve for next time something feels this badly wrong?

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You’re walking around, and you were the one under the canopy. That’s good news. As far as developing judgment (which is what you’re really talking about), practicing EP’s on the ground helps. But also, going through in your mind repeatedly what weird non-malfunctions look like. As well as making a deliberate mental note of when you open, what normal feel like, etc.

I’ve cut line twists away twice. In both cases it was the right decision, based on opening altitude and the canopy I was jumping.

Wendy P.
There is nothing more dangerous than breaking a basic safety rule and getting away with it. It removes fear of the consequences and builds false confidence. (tbrown)

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Congrats on being safely on the ground without injuries!

The main things to improve that come to my mind:
Don't rent a rig that has a reserve that is that much smaller than the main (if you've never jumped that size before) and does not have an RSL.

If the rental rig came from the dropzone (rather than private rental) I would at least inquire about the logic behind not putting an RSL in and having the reserve be so much smaller, if these rigs are rented mainly to students or very new jumpers.

--just my opinion. I had no cutaway yet, but I did return a rental rig that I had gotten from a friend who's also a rigger, once I noticed the size of the reserve and did not feel comfortable with it. Sure, I probably would have been fine (and so were you) but do I really want to downsize 2 sizes for the first time in my skydiving career in such a situation?

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It sounds like you did fine, especially for a first cutaway at 66 jumps. Do you have the video you're talking about? I find it helps if I put my hands up on the lines (since that's what I am grabbing anyway to try to fix most problems), that way the altimeter is straight in line visually with the parachute and I can interchangeably look between the main and the altimeter since they are both in the same field of view.

Also, FYI you said you opened at 5k and you were under your reserve by 3k. You also said that you normally pull at 3k. If you had pulled at your normal altitude of 3k, you wouldn't be under your reserve until 1k, and if you troubleshoot the issue longer you would be even lower. You might want to take that into consideration and pull at 3.5k or 4k.

I never really understood 3k pull altitudes. They can be safe, but if you open in any malfunction you're going to have to cut away. USPA decision altitudes is 2500' for students and A license holders and 1800' for B and above. From physically grabbing my PC handle to fully open, slider fully down, my parachute takes 1200'. That means if I throw the PC at 3k, I am opening at my decision altitude, which means ANY malfunctions, even line twists, needs to get cut immediately.

I feel like that's one way to get in a situation where you're cutting too low. You open at 3k, parachute fully open with a low speed malfunction at 2k or slightly lower, you figure it's just line twists so you can handle it, spend a bit of time trying to fix it and now you're at 1500' and you still dont have a good parachute overhead. Now you cut away and you're open under reserve at 800' and too far from the DZ to land. You should already be executing your pattern at this point but you haven't even figured out where you are yet let alone where you're going to land, how you're going to land, ect, ect... It's just a chain of bad events all leading from a low pull altitude. Something to consider.

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You did very well. Don't worry about it. And don't overthink things. Its a life or death situation. Survival is the priority, and you did.

Its easy to second guess after the event. And no two situations are ever the same. Gear can be replaced.

If you are in doubt....always chop.
My computer beat me at chess, It was no match for me at kickboxing....

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Quote

How can I improve for next time something feels this badly wrong?





More situational awareness will come with more experience. You did the things you needed to do. There are some things that you could have done differently, but that is only marginally relevant. Good job.

I do have questions about rental rigs with 190 main and 160 reserve, but that is not your fault.

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benlangfeld

...Once on the ground and sat down, I became very disappointed in my response to the situation. It was very likely a popped toggle, and I feel like I should have been able to identify it, at which point the solution is trivial, but in the heat of the moment in unfamiliar territory (never had more than low speed line twists before) I decided that I distinctly did not like what was happening and didn’t want to give it much time to find out how much worse it might get...

...How can I improve for next time something feels this badly wrong?



As was noted, you are on the ground, analyzing the situation, trying to figure out how to do better next time.

That beats the hell out of not being here because you rode a mal into the ground, trying to fix it. That happens far too often.

I won't second guess your decision to chop. That's something that is done very quickly, and needs to be done correctly. Regardless of whether or not it 'maybe' could have been fixed, you did the right thing. Gear can be replaced. Lives cannot.

Soooo...

Was it a toggle fire? Maybe. It fits. It could also have been tension knots, which may or may not have been fixable.

I've had a few toggle fires. They get very 'spinny', very quickly. The ones I had on my 190 Triathlon could be countered and the spin stopped by pulling opposite rear riser. The ones I had on my 170 Sabre2 could not be stopped by rear riser. The only way to stop the spin is to pop the toggles. Standard procedure I was taught is to pop both toggles, and not to screw around trying to figure out which one it is.

How to do better next time?

Practice. While it's not a perfect duplicate of the situation, due to somewhat different dynamics during opening, you can still simulate it to a certain degree.
Make sure you are high enough and in clear airspace, pull both toggles down to the cat's eye. Let the canopy slow down for a bit, then let one up. See how it turns. See how the spin develops. See if opposite rear riser will counter it or not.

If you are renting gear, be well aware that different canopies will behave differently in a toggle fire situation. One good reason to jump the same canopy consistently.
"There are NO situations which do not call for a French Maid outfit." Lucky McSwervy

"~ya don't GET old by being weak & stupid!" - Airtwardo

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You are not dead - You did fine.

Don't over think it. When you have more experience you MIGHT have done something different, maybe not. But when you have more experience, you will still question your choices like this.
"No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms." -- Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson Papers, 334

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wolfriverjoe

Was it a toggle fire? Maybe. It fits. It could also have been tension knots, which may or may not have been fixable.

...

The only way to stop the spin is to pop the toggles. Standard procedure I was taught is to pop both toggles, and not to screw around trying to figure out which one it is.



I figure now I've been through it once, am now confident in my ability to execute EPs quickly, and have seen a reserve above my head already, the next time I have anything abnormal, I'll be able to deal with it more calmly and clearly.

wolfriverjoe

If you are renting gear, be well aware that different canopies will behave differently in a toggle fire situation. One good reason to jump the same canopy consistently.



Thankfully, this was my last jump on rental gear before receiving my own rig, which I will get to know intimately.

wolfriverjoe

Practice. While it's not a perfect duplicate of the situation, due to somewhat different dynamics during opening, you can still simulate it to a certain degree.
Make sure you are high enough and in clear airspace, pull both toggles down to the cat's eye. Let the canopy slow down for a bit, then let one up. See how it turns. See how the spin develops. See if opposite rear riser will counter it or not.



That's a fantastic idea. I'll be spending a whole weekend on canopy drills on my new rig, and will include this on a high-pull. When I've switched rental rigs in the past, I've done normal drills (everything Brian Germain suggests pre-downsizing, which includes all the B-license progression card stuff), but I've never attempted to simulate this particular situation. I'll do this and some other drills that get me scared in the same way and practice a calm response (high, on my own pass).

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faulknerwn

You did fine. You are alive and walking. You might check out USPA's VR videos of malfunctions - they might help you get used to seeing some things in a more realistic way than just looking at pictures...



I've watched those, as well as the Australian Parachute Association videos. They only cover serious malfunctions, and not common "opening mishaps" like this, with the exception of line twists, which were easy the first time I encountered them. This time the canopy failed the first visual check; it wasn't there (*points up*), it was _there_ (*points forward*).

Intellectually, sat on the ground, it's obvious, but on this first time it happened to me, I just couldn't see what was wrong; the canopy was mostly inflated, riser input did nothing, it sped up in very short order, and my reaction was more instinctual than logical.

I think this is probably something of a gap in training: not really a malfunction, but surprising enough to be tricky to deal with. The only videos of toggle fire I can find through Google are cases where the human was smart enough to pop both and get it under control; am I the only one who has ever chosen to cut away in this scenario?

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benlangfeld

***You did fine. You are alive and walking. You might check out USPA's VR videos of malfunctions - they might help you get used to seeing some things in a more realistic way than just looking at pictures...



I've watched those, as well as the Australian Parachute Association videos. They only cover serious malfunctions, and not common "opening mishaps" like this, with the exception of line twists, which were easy the first time I encountered them. This time the canopy failed the first visual check; it wasn't there (*points up*), it was _there_ (*points forward*).

Intellectually, sat on the ground, it's obvious, but on this first time it happened to me, I just couldn't see what was wrong; the canopy was mostly inflated, riser input did nothing, it sped up in very short order, and my reaction was more instinctual than logical.

I think this is probably something of a gap in training: not really a malfunction, but surprising enough to be tricky to deal with. The only videos of toggle fire I can find through Google are cases where the human was smart enough to pop both and get it under control; am I the only one who has ever chosen to cut away in this scenario?

You won't be the first or last to chop this. Don't beat yourself up over it. Move on. You are better prepared for next time. That's a positive.

Be very aware, simple problems can get you just as dead as major ones.

In fact, IMO, simple problems are the ones most likely to nail you. Major mals, no problem, easy decision, go straight to EPs. Minor problems tend to make people indecisive, and while that goes down, a minor problem can very quickly turn nasty.

Canopies spinning up can create a whole new set of problems, not the least of which is eating up altitude. It doesn't matter what is causing the problem, the important thing is decision making. Not a good idea to spend the rest of your life wondering.

Don't waste precious time and altitude trying to figure something out. If you have a set procedure ingrained, (as you should) have one quick go at solving the problem, but be ready to go to EPs at once if there is no result. Its difficult to have a solution practised for every scenario though, so keeping it simple is the best move.

Canopy good? or bad? Make a decision and stick to it. Tried and true.

I had a very lucky escape when I tried some in air rigging on a simple problem one time. And I was experienced enough at the time to have known better. Stupidity overruled good procedure, and I benefited from some good, rather than bad luck.

But the reaper lurks for us all.
My computer beat me at chess, It was no match for me at kickboxing....

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benlangfeld


...Intellectually, sat on the ground, it's obvious, but on this first time it happened to me, I just couldn't see what was wrong; the canopy was mostly inflated, riser input did nothing, it sped up in very short order, and my reaction was more instinctual than logical.

I think this is probably something of a gap in training: not really a malfunction, but surprising enough to be tricky to deal with. The only videos of toggle fire I can find through Google are cases where the human was smart enough to pop both and get it under control; am I the only one who has ever chosen to cut away in this scenario?



Of course it's obvious if you take time, sit down, think about it, go through all of the possibilities, sort through options, and on and on.

If you do that up in the air, to much time passes and 'bad things' happen.

Your response was ingrained and instinctive. As it should have been. Canopy was not landable, you chopped it.

I wouldn't expect newer jumpers to be able to differentiate between 'fixable' toggle fires and 'unfixable' tension knots. I may or may not be able to tell the difference myself.
Training can only cover so much. Training newer jumpers to chop anything they aren't sure of is as good as it's likely going to get. Analyzing and addressing 'fixable' mals is not something that can really be taught, it's far more of an 'experience' thing.
And even experienced jumpers get bit by trying too long to fix something.

In my case, the first couple toggle fires were controllable by rear riser (first instinct). So once the canopy wasn't turning, I was able to take a second and evaluate the situation.
When I had it happen on a different canopy, one that rear risers wouldn't control, I still had the experience to recognize the canopy's behavior and say "well, rear riser isn't working, pop the toggles. If that doesn't work, get rid of the thing". It takes longer to read that sentence than it did to think it.

If my first toggle fire had been on a canopy that rear input didn't work, I likely would have chopped it.

Keep in mind that if you are seeing video of a jump (and a toggle fire) then, in theory, the jumper should be at least reasonably experienced.

I know of at least a few jumpers who cut away a toggle fire. And I know one very experienced jumper who should have and didn't.

And died trying to fix it.
"There are NO situations which do not call for a French Maid outfit." Lucky McSwervy

"~ya don't GET old by being weak & stupid!" - Airtwardo

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benlangfeld

.

Practice. While it's not a perfect duplicate of the situation, due to somewhat different dynamics during opening, you can still simulate it to a certain degree.
Make sure you are high enough and in clear airspace, pull both toggles down to the cat's eye. Let the canopy slow down for a bit, then let one up. See how it turns. See how the spin develops. See if opposite rear riser will counter it or not.





I am not sure this accurately replicates a toggle fire. I have unstowed one toggle while leaving the other stowed and the canopy barely even turned at all. This was with a 170 with a WL of 1.05. At worst, it was a slight spin that wasent even the slightest disorientating. I dont know how a smaller canopy on a higher WL would react, but on large canopies it doesent seem to do much. The OP said he was on a 190 and the toggle fire was enough to cause a hard spin. I was on a smaller canopy than the OP when I tried and it was pretty boring. As such, I suspect a toggle popping off while the canopy is sniveling is not the same as popping one once the slider is down and the canopy is slow.

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gowlerk

I do have questions about rental rigs with 190 main and 160 reserve, but that is not your fault.



It seems to be sized somewhat similarly to my first rig, which was a 170 main and a 147 reserve. I got that combination on the advice of a master rigger, who was confident that if I could jump the 170 main safely, I could also handle the reserve. Not saying that you "should" be doing it this way, but it doesn't seem very uncommon to have a smaller reserve for medium-build rigs with large mains. I also seem to recall the bit of old-time logic that the reserve should be a bit smaller (on the assumption that it would have shorter lines), so that it can settle into a stable biplane in a two-out situation. Which is a bit less relevant these days, with radically different main and reserve designs and high main WLs.
"Skydivers are highly emotional people. They get all excited about their magical black box full of mysterious life saving forces."

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Westerly

As such, I suspect a toggle popping off while the canopy is sniveling is not the same as popping one once the slider is down and the canopy is slow.



I've been considering intentionally packing myself a toggle fire (on a dedicated jump with nothing else going on, of course). Has anyone tried this? Will I regret it deeply?
"Skydivers are highly emotional people. They get all excited about their magical black box full of mysterious life saving forces."

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mathrick

***As such, I suspect a toggle popping off while the canopy is sniveling is not the same as popping one once the slider is down and the canopy is slow.



I've been considering intentionally packing myself a toggle fire (on a dedicated jump with nothing else going on, of course). Has anyone tried this? Will I regret it deeply?

Under test conditions, with experience, yes.

For you, bad idea.
My computer beat me at chess, It was no match for me at kickboxing....

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If your description of what happened is accurate, this doesn’t sound like a toggle fire.
Without video, you will never know.
What you do know is you executed EP’s and lived.
Quit second guessing yourself.
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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You don’t understand opening at 3 grand because you don’t understand a lot with your b license..I don’t know you or what your real stats are but I probably have more exist at or below 3 grand them you do openings above 3 grand. And I don’t even have a ton of jumps. I’ll just give you one example and move on. Every single large formation jump I’ve would have kicked my ass off the loads if I was even thinking about opening at 3 grand let opening that high. Being in the base we didn’t even turn and burn until 3 and dumped at the legal altitude 2200, yeah, yeah that’s the ticket, we dumped at 2200 yeah... now should you with a B license being down in the basement? Nope there isn’t anything down there for you, YET... but don’t be scared. 3000 isn’t low nor is 2500... 900? Yeah that’s low but you might end up the centerfold of Parachutist:) you should spend some time in the formation skydiving room. Then go talk to your instructor and for DZO or the old guys dancing with each other before you cling on and move to the back of the “bus”

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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USPA minimum opening altitude for B to D licenses: 2500ft.

Throw at 2200, average snivel until 1500 until you're under a fully open parachute and can detect any malfunction--you're already under your decision altitude...and that's if you can detect the mal before unstowing the toggles and doing a controllability check.

Personally, I wouldn't make a habit of it.

(And yes, I know: "back in the days" people used to open lower all the time--fatality rates also used to be more than double, certainly not only for that reason, but still)

PS: I'm sure you have the experience you say you have, but should you be recommending to new jumpers who read this to open below the USPA minimum altitude for their license? Better we keep believing it's "too low", so we don't mess up your dropzone when you have to scrape us off the runway, and you wouldn't invite us low-jump-number people onto these kinds of big-ways anyway! :P

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