Photos by Ioannis Vlachiotis.
Although he had radio guidance, a student on his first jump ended up south of the drop zone at his pattern altitude. Power lines are the main obstacle south of this DZ, and students receive information on how to avoid them and what to do in case they can't. The DZ has two landing patterns, and the final approaches run parallel to the lines. Students are instructed to decide by 2,000 feet whether they can make the landing area and to choose another area when in doubt.
Finding himself south of the DZ, this jumper flew the canopy almost straight toward the drop zone and the power lines before it. His canopy’s lines hit the power cables while he was still in full flight, flipping his body almost to the height of the canopy above. The power lines short circuited, burning the jumper’s left leg, damaging the canopy and lines and knocking out power to the area for a couple hours.
The jumper responded correctly by waiting for help to arrive and avoiding touching the lines. The student never lost consciousness and was able to communicate, and the fire department and the power company arrived shortly after the incident. He was treated at a local hospital and released a few hours later.
Jumpers arriving at a new location routinely receive a drop zone orientation that covers nearby obstacles. Although most obstacles are straightforward and easily identifiable during canopy flight, power lines are the exceptions. The lines themselves can be nearly impossible to see until it is too late, which is why jumpers need to take several steps to avoid them. Here’s a short list to avoid becoming part of a human bug zapper:
1| Use an overhead map to identify power lines before you jump. Knowing the power grid around the drop zone will put you ahead of the curve if you are forced to land off.
2| Power lines love to follow roads and driveways. Land in the middle of an open area, not next to the road or driveway.
3| Look for the power poles or their shadows and then assume that the lines run between them.
4| Avoid power stations. Don’t fly over them when you’re below 1,000 feet. Fly around these areas, following a trail of landable areas, if possible.
5| Never try to fly under or between power lines. Power lines are often accompanied by cable and telephone lines which can be even harder to see.
USPA Skydiver’s Information Manual, Section 5-1, Skydiving Emergencies, includes information about power lines.