Tales from the Bonfire | A Wet Wingsuit Landing
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Tales from the Bonfire | A Wet Wingsuit Landing

Tales from the Bonfire | A Wet Wingsuit Landing

Safety & Training
Thursday, October 27, 2022

The jump was in Norway, filming a wingsuit team flying over a fjord. It was the end of the day, about 9 p.m., about an hour before sunset.

The plan had been to jump from 14,000 feet, but because of clouds, we adjusted to 11k. That difference in altitude meant we opened our parachutes before we were above the planned landing area, but I looked down at my options and felt confident I wouldn’t land in the water.

I realized it was much windier than I’d thought, and as I zigzagged down, the open water of that fjord seemed closer and closer. As I made my final turn, I felt a strong wind push me back. I was landing in the water.

It was no more than 15 feet from land, so while this wasn’t good, I still believed everything would be OK. I could just make the quick swim back. But surprisingly, swimming to land was very difficult. Looking at the shore, I saw that the wind and water had pushed me close to where a small mountain river let out into the fjord, and its current was keeping me from swimming back.

I realized then that I was in a seriously dangerous situation. The longer I was in the fjord, the more my wingsuit filled with water, and I could already feel it pulling me down. In a matter of minutes, I would really be in trouble, and I didn’t see anyone near to help me. All my camera gear on my head wasn’t helping, either.

So, I cut away my canopy and started trying to release my chest and leg straps, but found that to be impossible as everything was already so wet and heavy. As it became more and more difficult to stay afloat, I grabbed my hook knife and started cutting everything. Slashing the leg-wings of the wingsuit helped to release water, but the sheer weight of the material was too much.

I looked around one last time and, surprisingly, did see a few people on the shore. They looked like they were waiting for me to swim out, so I started shouting at them to come in and give me a hand. I couldn’t swim against the current and I couldn’t keep myself afloat, as my gear and suit both were now completely waterlogged.

Photos by Juan Mayer.

One of them jumped in to help, and I was underwater before he got to me. But he pulled me up and over to land. I got lucky. In 15,000-plus jumps over 20-plus years of skydiving, this was the scariest situation I’ve experienced, and the closest to death I’ve been.

The first thing I did wrong was jumping over water without a personal flotation device—a big mistake. Another was under canopy: I didn’t get ready with my chest strap opened and wingsuit unzipped because I didn’t really believe I would land in the water until the last second. The possibility was there, however, and that could have saved my life.

I also learned—the hardest way—that landing with a wingsuit in warm and calm water is completely different than landing in cold and quick-moving water. In the former, a wingsuit can actually help you float for a limited time. For me, it did the opposite.

I know there is more to learn on this subject than what I’ve detailed here, but I share my story to raise awareness of the seriousness of water landings with wingsuits and other extra gear. It may not feel heavy when it’s dry, but that can change quickly once it’s wet. And in just a couple minutes, what feels like an inconvenience can become a life-threatening situation.

Juan Mayer | D-26130
Girona, Spain

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