Most people think that skydiving is a dangerous sport. I do not, especially when looking at statistics. Chances of something going wrong are relatively low, but unfortunately the consequences of an accident can be quite severe.
The odds that you will have malfunction so severe forcing you to cut away are 1:800. So it came to me quite surprising that on my 34th jump I saw myself forced to cut away my main parachute and open the reserve. Just as Churchill already said “statistics are not to be trusted”.
To understand what happened I need to explain how a parachute works in a little more detail. To open your parachute you need to throw a little pilot chute in the wind which will pull out your main canopy on a little bridle. It will catch air and therefore open up to a square parachute, stabilized by the air blowing in it due to your forward motion in flight. To slow the opening down to a rate that your body can handle without being injured, a square piece of fabric – the slider – blocks most of the air from rushing directly in the expanding parachute. Once the parachute is inflated completely it is not needed anymore and will glide down on your lines, where you can grab it and stow it away. Unfortunately one of the lines used to steer the canopy loosened during freefall or opening and allowed its toggle to be stuck in the grommet of the slider.
The outcome was a not fully inflated canopy and an uncontrollable spin. As soon as I had realized what had happened I grabbed the toggle and tried to free it out of the slider’s grommet. But the tension on the lines was too strong to free the toggle and my spin accelerated steadily. I checked my altimeter and ensured to have enough altitude before I continued to try to resolve the problem. Eventually I had to give up since the spin accelerated further and I started to feel the G-forces acting on me. I looked down to both my cutaway and reserve handles and pulled the red cutaway. I instantly felt the relief of G-force on my harness and found myself in freefall for the second time. Within seconds my reserve had opened: a beautiful bright blue canopy with red steering toggles indicated to everybody that I was coming down on my reserve. Immediately I remembered the wise words of my instructor to test the reserve thoroughly. It is the canopy you never aim to fly, it is made out of a different material and has a different shape, hence its flying characteristic is very different. It was only after a pretty solid landing that I started to realize what just had happened. But by that time it was too late to be worried anyways.
So yes, the skydiving might be more dangerous than your average sport, but our redundant safety systems work very well, mitigating that risk down to an acceptable level.
I know the paragraph above is very technical and might be a little tricky to understand to people who do not skydive, but on this guy on the video below encountered the exact same malfunction.