United States Parachute Association > Experienced Skydivers > SIM > Section 5-1

5-1 Skydiving Emergencies

A. Practice emergency procedures

  1. Regular, periodic review, analysis, and practice of emergency procedures prepares you to act correctly in response to problems that arise while skydiving.
  2. Annually review all parachute emergency procedures in a training harness.
  3. Long lay-offs between jumps not only dull skills but heighten apprehensions.
  4. Before each jump, review the procedures to avoid emergency situations and the procedures to respond to emergencies if they occur.
  5. Practice your reserve emergency procedures on the ground at every reserve repack.
    1. Simulate some type of main malfunction on the ground, then cut away and deploy the reserve.
    2. This practice will provide you first-hand knowledge about the potential pull forces and direction of pull on your gear.

B. Prevention and preparation

  1. Proper preparation and responsible judgment greatly reduce the probability of encountering an emergency situation, but even with the most careful precautions emergencies may still occur from time to time.
  2. Skydiving is made safer by always anticipating and being prepared to respond to the types of emergencies that may arise.
  3. Failure to effectively deal with an emergency situation is one of the greatest causes of fatal incidents in skydiving.
  4. Safety results from reducing risk by doing the following:
    1. Acquiring accurate knowledge.
    2. Jumping only in suitable conditions.
    3. Evaluating the risk factors.
    4. Knowing your personal limitations.
    5. Keeping your options open.

C. Take action

  1. Deploy the parachute.
    1. Open the parachute at the correct altitude.
    2. A stable, face-to-earth body position improves opening reliability but is secondary to opening at the correct altitude.
  2. Promptly determine if the canopy has properly opened.
  3. Perform the appropriate emergency procedures and open the reserve parachute if there is any doubt whether the main canopy is open properly and controllable.
  4. Land in a clear area—a long walk is better than landing in a hazardous area.
  5. Land safely—land with your feet and knees together in preparation for performing a PLF (parachute landing fall) to avoid injury.

D. Aircraft emergencies

  1. Each skydiving center should establish and review procedures for all possible aircraft emergencies.
  2. Every pilot and non-student jumper should thoroughly understand these procedures.
  3. All students should take direction from their instructor(s).

E. Equipment emergencies

Parachute Malfunctions (general)
  1. The majority of all malfunctions can be traced to three primary causes:]
    1. poor or unstable body position during parachute deployment
    2. faulty equipment
    3. improper or careless packing
  2. Malfunction procedures
    1. Refer to Category A of the Integrated Student Program for specific, basic procedures for dealing with parachute malfunctions.
    2. In addition, other procedures are discussed in this section for licensed jumpers who may need to adjust procedures to accommodate different techniques, equipment, and personal preferences.
  3. All malfunctions can be classified as one of two types:
    1. total malfunction (parachute not activated, or activated but not deploying)
    2. partial malfunction (parachute deployed but not landable):
  4. You should decide upon and take the appropriate actions by a predetermined altitude that should be no lower than:
    1. Students and A-license holders: 2,500 feet.
    2. B-D license holders: 1,800 feet.
  5. Reserve activation
    1. Reserve pilot chutes are manufactured with a metal spring in the center, which adds weight to the reserve pilot chute.
    2. During a stable, belly-to-earth reserve deployment, the reserve pilot chute can remain in the jumper’s burble for several seconds, delaying the reserve deployment.
    3. Immediately after pulling the reserve ripcord, look over your right shoulder while twisting your upper body upwards to the right, or sit up in a slightly head-high orientation, in order to change the airflow behind your container to help the reserve pilot chute launch into clean air.
    4. Most harness and container manufacturers secure the steering toggles to reserve risers using Velcro, which will firmly hold the toggle in place. Be sure to peel the Velcro before attempting to pull the toggles free from the risers to release the brakes.
Total Malfunction
  1. Identification
    1. A total malfunction includes deployment handle problems (unable to locate or extract the main parachute deployment handle), pack closure, and a pilot chute in tow.
    2. If altitude permits, the jumper should make no more than two attempts to solve the problem (or a total of no more than two additional seconds).
  2. Procedures:
    1. In the case of no main pilot chute deployment (e.g., missing or stuck handle, ripcord system container lock), deploy the reserve.
    2. hand-deployed pilot chute in tow malfunction procedures (choose one):
      1. For a pilot-chute-in-tow malfunction, there are currently two common and acceptable procedures, both of which have pros and cons.
      2. An instructor should be consulted prior to gearing up, and each skydiver should have a pre-determined course of action.
        Pilot chute in tow 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 cutaway.
        Pilot chute in tow procedure 2:
        Cut away, then immediately deploy the reserve. Because there is a chance the main parachute could deploy during or as a result of the reserve activation, a cutaway might be the best response in some situations.
      3. In some cases, the parachute system used for the jump will require specific procedures that must be followed to reduce the chances of a main/reserve entanglement if the main canopy deploys after the reserve parachute is deployed. Check with the manufacturer of your harness and container for any specific procedures.
Partial Malfunction
  1. Identification: A partial malfunction is characterized by deployment (removal from the container) or partial deployment of the main parachute and includes, horseshoe (the container is open but the parachute is not properly deployed because something is snagged on the system), bag lock, streamer, lineover, line pressure knots, major (unlandable) canopy damage, and other open-canopy malfunctions.
  2. Procedure: The recommended procedure for responding to partial malfunctions is to cut away the main parachute before deploying the reserve.
  3. At some point during descent under a partial malfunction, it becomes too low for a safe cutaway and you must deploy the reserve without cutting away.
  4. Consider the operating range of the automatic activation device when determining your personal malfunction response altitudes.
Premature main container opening
  1. With a throw-out main pilot-chute deployment system (pilot chute deployment prior to closing pin extraction), the container can open before the pilot chute is deployed, causing one type of horseshoe malfunction.
  2. Prevention
    1. good equipment and closing system maintenance
    2. careful movement in the aircraft and during climbout and exit
    3. avoiding jumper contact that involves the main closing system
  3. Upon discovery that the main container has opened, the recommended response is as follows:
    1. First, attempt to deploy the main pilot chute for no more than two tries or two seconds, whichever comes first.
    2. Failing that, cut away and deploy the reserve.
    3. Out-of-sequence pilot-chute extraction:
      1. On systems with a bottom-of-container mounted pilot chute, premature extraction of the bag prior to pilot-chute deployment may make the pilot chute difficult to locate and extract.
      2. On any throw-out hand-deployed system, the pilot chute should be capable of extraction by the jumper or from tension on the main bridle caused by the deployed parachute in the event of this type of malfunction.
Two canopies out
Note: The following recommendations are drawn from experience with larger canopies during tests conducted in the mid-1990s. Smaller canopies may react differently and require a different response.
  1. Various scenarios can result in having both parachutes deploy with one of the following outcomes.
  2. One canopy inflated, another deploying
    1. Attempt to contain the deploying reserve or main canopy and stuff it between your legs.
    2. If the second canopy deployment is inevitable and there is sufficient altitude, disconnect the reserve static line and cut away the main.
    3. If the second deployment is inevitable and there is insufficient altitude for a cutaway, wait for inflation of the second canopy and evaluate the result.
      1. The two open canopies typically settle into one of three configurations, biplane, side-by-side, or downplane.
      2. Trying to force one configuration into a more manageable configuration is typically futile and can be dangerous.
  3. Stable biplane
    1. Disconnect the reserve static line if altitude permits.
    2. Unstow the brakes on the front canopy or leave the brakes stowed and steer by pulling on the rear risers and recover gently to full flight.
    3. Leave the brakes stowed on the rear canopy.
    4. Steer the front canopy only as necessary to maneuver for a safe landing.
    5. Use minimal control input as necessary for landing.
    6. Perform a parachute landing fall.
  4. Stable side-by-side (choose one procedure):
    Side-by-side procedure 1:
    If both canopies are flying without interference or possibility of entanglement and altitude permits:
    1. Disconnect the reserve static line.
    2. Cut away the main and steer the reserve to a normal landing.
    Side-by-side procedure 2:
    Land both canopies.
    1. Disconnect the reserve static line if altitude permits.
    2. Release the brakes of the dominant canopy (larger and more overhead) and steer gently with the toggles, or leave the brakes stowed and steer by pulling on the rear risers.
    3. Land without flaring and perform a parachute landing fall.
  5. Downplane or pinwheel (canopies spinning around each other)
    1. Disconnect the reserve static line if altitude permits.
    2. Cut away the main canopy and steer the reserve to a normal landing.
  6. Main-reserve entanglement
    1. Attempt to clear the problem by retrieving the less-inflated canopy.
    2. Perform a parachute landing fall.

F. Landing emergencies

  1. Procedures for an unintentional water landing:
    1. Continue to steer to avoid the water hazard.
    2. Activate the flotation device, if available.
    3. Loosen the chest strap to facilitate getting out of the harness after landing in the water.
    4. Disconnect the reserve static line (if applicable) to reduce complications in case the main needs to be cut away after splashing down.
    5. Flare to half brakes at ten feet above the water (this may be difficult to judge, due to poor depth perception over the water).
    6. Prepare for a PLF, in case the water is shallow (it will be nearly impossible to determine the depth from above).
    7. Enter the water with your lungs filled with air.
    8. After entering the water, throw your arms back and slide forward out of the harness.
      1. Remain in the harness and attached to the canopy until actually in the water.
      2. If cutting away (known deep water only), do so only after both feet contact the water.
      3. If flotation gear is not used, separation from the equipment is essential.
      4. The container can also serve as a flotation device if the reserve canopy is packed in the container.
      5. Caution must be used to avoid the main canopy suspension lines if the reserve container is used for flotation.
      6. Tests have shown that a container with a packed reserve will remain buoyant for up to 45 minutes or longer.
    9. Dive deep and swim out from under the collapsed canopy.
    10. If covered by the canopy, follow one seam to the edge of the canopy until clear of it.
    11. In swift or shallow water, pull one toggle in or cut away if under the main canopy.
    12. Refill your lungs at every opportunity.
    13. Swim carefully away upwind or upstream to avoid entangling in the suspension lines.
    14. Remove any full coverage helmets in the event of breathing difficulties.
  2. If using the Air Force type (LPU) underarm flotation equipment—
    1. Although worn underneath, the bladders inflate outside the harness, so removal of the harness is not practical without first deflating the bladders.
    2. If you must remove the harness after landing, the bladders should be deflated, extricated from the harness, and reinflated (orally) one at a time.
  3. The risks of a water landing are greatly increased when a jumper wears additional weights to increase fall rate.
  4. Camera flyers, skysurfers, and other skydivers carrying additional equipment on a jump need to plan their water landing procedures accordingly.
  5. Water temperature must always be a consideration
    1. Water temperatures below 70 degrees Fahrenheit can severely limit the amount of time a person can survive while trying to tread water or remain afloat.
    2. Treading water or swimming will cause the body to lose heat more rapidly, because blood moves to the extremities and is then cooled more rapidly.
    3. Depending on the situation, it may be better to try to float rather than swim or tread water while waiting for help to arrive.
  6. Other references
    1. SIM Section 2-1, USPA Basic Safety Requirements on water jumping equipment
    2. SIM Section 6-5, Water Landing Recommendations (unintentional and intentional).
  1. Power lines present a serious hazard to all aviators; know where they are near your DZ.
  2. Identify power lines in the landing area as early as possible and steer to avoid them.
  3. If a low turn is necessary to avoid a power line:
    1. Make the minimum, flat, braked turn necessary to miss the line.
    2. Execute a braked landing and flare.
    3. Prepare for a hard landing (PLF).
  4. If a power line landing is unavoidable:
    1. Drop any ripcords or other objects.
    2. Bring a ram-air canopy to slow flight.
    3. With a round canopy, place your hands between the front and rear risers on each side.
    4. Prepare for a PLF with your feet and knees tightly together and turn your head to the side to protect your chin.
    5. Land parallel to the power lines.
    6. Do not touch more than one wire at a time.
    7. If suspended in the wires:
      1. Wait for help from drop zone and power company personnel; nylon conducts electricity at higher voltages.
      2. Verify only with the power company that electrical power is off and will stay off.
      3. If the computer controlling the power distribution senses a fault in the line, computer-controlled resets may attempt to turn the power back on without warning.
  1. Avoid trees by careful spotting and a good approach pattern plan for the conditions.
  2. The potential dangers of landing in a tree extend until you are rescued and safely on the ground.
  3. Make any low-altitude avoidance turns from braked flight to avoid an equally dangerous dive following a turn from full flight.
  4. If a tree landing is unavoidable:
    1. With a ram-air canopy, hold the toggles at half brakes until tree contact.
    2. Prepare for a PLF; often the jumper passes through the tree and lands on the ground.
    3. Protect your body.
      1. Keep feet and knees tightly together.
      2. Do not cross your feet or legs.
      3. over your face with your hands while holding your elbows tightly against your stomach.
    4. Steer for the middle of the tree, then hold on to the trunk or main branch to avoid falling.
    5. If suspended above the ground, wait for help from drop zone personnel to get down.
    6. Don’t attempt to climb down from a tree without competent assistance (rescue personnel or properly trained drop zone staff).
  1. Plan your landing approach to be well clear of objects.
  2. Fly far enough from objects that another jumper or your own misjudgment does not force you into a building or other hazardous object.
  3. Focus on clear, open landing areas and steer the parachute to a clear area.
  4. Make any low-altitude avoidance turns from braked flight to avoid an equally dangerous dive following a turn from full flight.
  5. If landing on a building or object cannot be avoided, prepare for a PLF.
  6. Flare at ten feet above the first point of contact with the building or object.
  7. Strike the object feet first, whether landing on top or into the side of the object.
  8. After landing on top of an object in windy conditions:
    1. Disconnect the reserve static line (if possible) and cut away the main parachute.
    2. If landing with a reserve, retrieve and contain the canopy until removing the harness.
    3. Wait for competent help.
    1. Jumpers prefer to land in the planned area, which is usually familiar and free of obstacles; however, circumstances might make that difficult or impossible:
      1. spotting error
      2. unexpected wind conditions
      3. inadvertent high opening
      4. low opening, especially under a reserve canopy
    2. Problems resulting from less-than-ideal opening positions over the ground have resulted in injuries and fatalities for students and experienced jumpers:
      1. intentional low turns into an unfamiliar landing area.
      2. unplanned low turns trying to avoid obstacles
      3. landing into or on an obstacle or uneven terrain
      4. errors made after trying to return to the planned landing area or returning lower than planned, when a better choice was available
    3. Avoiding off-field landings
      1. Know the correct exit point for the current conditions.
      2. Once at the door of the aircraft, check the spot before exiting and request a go-around if necessary.
      3. In freefall, check the spot soon after exit and adjust opening altitude if necessary and safe to do so, considering the following:
        1. other groups or individuals in freefall nearby
        2. jumpers from other planes (multiple-plane operations)
    4. If an off-field landing cannot be avoided:
      1. Do not waste altitude trying to reach the main landing area when a viable alternative is available.
      2. Decide on a viable alternative landing area based on your current location and the wind speed and direction.
      3. Plan a descent strategy and landing pattern for the alternative landing area.
      4. Check the alternative landing area carefully for hazards while still high enough to adjust the landing pattern to avoid them.
        1. When checking for power lines, it is easier to see the poles and towers than the wires themselves.
        2. Determine the wind direction to predict turbulence created by trees or other obstacles, and plan a landing spot accordingly.
        3. Fences and hills may be difficult to see from higher altitudes.
        4. Fences and power lines often form straight lines along the ground
    5. Canopy control
      1. A braked approach and braked turns allow for the canopy to be flown at a slower forward speed and descent rate but may lengthen the approach glide.
      2. Altitude-conserving braked turns may be necessary to avoid an obstacle.
      3. A braked turn at a low altitude may not allow enough time for recovery to full flight in time for a landing flare, and a jumper may need to make a braked landing.
      4. Jumpers should practice braked turns and approaches often to prepare for this eventuality.
    6. Returning from a long distance:
      1. Flying a long distance in high winds can disorient a jumper for altitude awareness and could lead to a low turn.
      2. High winds at higher altitudes typically diminish near the ground and should not be counted on to carry a jumper over an obstacle or hostile landing area.
      3. A jumper attempting to return from a long distance should keep alternatives in mind along the way and begin an approach into a clear area by 1,000 feet.
      4. Landing into the wind is desirable, but not at the risk of a low turn.
      5. In any off-field landing, a parachute landing fall is a good defense against injury from unknown surface and terrain.
    7. Jumpers must respect the property where the landing took place.
      1. Do not disturb livestock.
      2. Leave gates as they were found.
      3. Avoid walking on crops or other cultivated vegetation.
      4. property damage
        1. Report any property damage to the property owner and make arrangements for repairs.
        2. USPA membership includes insurance for such situations.

    G. Freefall collisions

    1. A collision danger faces jumpers exiting in a group or on the same pass when they lose track of each other.
    2. Differential freefall speeds may reach upwards of 150 mph horizontally and vertically in combination.
    3. Jumpers must take precautions to prevent a collision with freefalling jumpers during and after opening.

    H. Canopy collisions

    1. The best way to avoid a collision is to know where other canopies are at all times.
    2. Most canopy collisions occur soon after deployment when two jumpers open too close to each other, or below 1,000 feet while in the landing pattern.
    3. Higher break-off altitudes, better planning and tracking farther can help ensure clear airspace during deployment.
    4. Remaining vigilant throughout the canopy descent and always looking in the direction of the turn before initiating it can help to identify and avoid other canopies during the descent.
    5. If approaching a jumper head on, both canopies should steer to the right unless it is obvious that steering left is necessary to avoid the collision (both jumpers are more offset towards the left).
    6. If a collision is inevitable:
      1. Protect your face and operation handles.
      2. Tuck in your arms, legs and head for protection against the impact.
      3. Avoid hitting the suspension lines of the other canopy or the other jumper, if at all possible.
      4. If a collision with the other jumper’s suspension lines is unavoidable, it may be possible to spread your legs and one arm, while protecting your handles with the other arm, in order to keep from passing through the suspension lines during the collision. However, a collision at high speed with suspension lines can lead to severe cuts and burns.
      5. Check altitude with respect to the minimum cutaway decision and execution altitude recommended for your experience.
      6. Communicate before taking action:
        1. The jumper above can strike the jumper below during a cutaway unless one or both are clear or ready to fend off.
        2. The jumper below can worsen the situation for the jumper above by cutting away before he or she is ready.
        3. If both jumpers are cutting away and altitude permits, the second jumper should wait until the first jumper clears the area below.
        4. The first jumper should fly from underneath in a straight line after opening.
        5. At some point below a safe cutaway altitude (1,000 feet), it may become necessary to deploy one or both reserves (may not be a safe option with an SOS system).
        6. If both jumpers are suspended under one flying canopy at a low altitude, it may become necessary to land with only that canopy.
        7. Communications may be difficult if one or both jumpers are wearing full-face helmets.
      7. SIM Section 6-6 F. Emergency procedures contains additional recommendations about dealing with canopy entanglements.

    I. Low turns

    1. Low turns under canopy are one of the biggest causes of serious injury and death in skydiving.
    2. A low turn can be premeditated or result from an error in judgment or experience with a situation.
    3. To avoid low turns, fly to a large, uncrowded landing area free of obstacles and—
      1. Fly a planned landing pattern that promotes a cooperative traffic flow.
      2. If landing off-field, plan a landing pattern by 1,000 feet.
    4. Once a jumper realizes that a turn has been made at an unsafe altitude:
      1. Use toggle control to get the canopy back overhead and stop the turn.
      2. Stop the dive.
      3. Flare and prepare for a hard landing (PLF).
      4. Manage the speed induced by the turn.
        1. Expect more responsive flare control with the toggles due to the increased airspeed.
        2. Expect a longer, flatter flare.
      5. In case of premature contact with the ground, no matter how hard, keep flying the canopy to reduce further injury.