Photo by Cheryl Brown.
USPA’s Basic Safety Requirements state that “the appropriate altitude and surface winds are to be determined prior to conducting any skydive.” This means jumpers must check the winds before each skydive to determine if they are too strong or gusty for their experience and comfort level. Jumpers must also consider wind direction so they can plan or adjust their landing patterns. Another factor is wind coming over obstacles such as hangars, buildings or trees, which can create dangerous downdrafts (or rotors) on the downwind side of the obstacle. These rotors can cause canopies to collapse, leaving jumpers with little or no time to recover.
One jumper related this account of encountering rotors:
“On the drive to my home drop zone, I always visualize how to fly and land my canopy, especially since I only make it to the DZ a couple times a month. But I recently learned (the hard way) that I never visualized a scenario on how to adjust my pattern when winds are coming over the hangars. I learned this critical piece of information when I attempted to land where I usually do—in the D-license area next to the hangars. Things were looking pretty good until I got about 30 to 40 feet above the ground and my canopy started to sink and lose forward speed, even though I was letting it fly with my steering toggles all the way up. My canopy wasn’t collapsing, so I started the first stage of my two-stage flare at roughly 15 feet above the ground. But the downdraft had something else in mind and took my canopy and me down with it. Luckily, I saw it coming and made my best attempt at a PLF [parachute landing fall] as my left heel and right knee slammed into the ground and I tumbled at lightning speed onto my right shoulder, ending up in a sitting position.
“As I sat there brooding over my stupidity and realizing that I wasn’t seriously injured, I asked myself why in the heck I failed to factor turbulence over obstacles into my dive plan ... something I had been taught how to do so many years ago. I really had no excuse. There were plenty of open areas where I could have landed if only I had not been so fixated on landing close to the hangars so I would look cool and have a shorter walk. Long story short, I was able to walk away with only a couple bruises ... and a bruised ego. You can bet that the next time the winds are coming over the hangars, I will remember to land out in the wide-open student area! Oh, and there is no doubt in my mind that what saved me was the PLF.”
This jumper’s story emphasizes the importance of two points: (1) planning your pattern before boarding the plane and (2) executing the best possible PLF when you know your landing is not going to be perfect.
This jumper thought he was doing all of the right things by visualizing a “perfect” landing before he got to the DZ, but he was so fixated on landing next to the hangar and looking cool that he didn’t stop to consider the turbulence created by winds coming over the hangars. In the future, this jumper should visualize his landing before every jump and be ready (and humble enough) to make adjustments to his pattern to account for changing wind speed and direction.
So, whether you jump every weekend or only a couple times a month, remember to check the winds and plan your landing pattern before each skydive. And for jumpers who don’t get to the DZ on a regular basis, visualizing a good landing is very helpful , but visualizing a problematic one is important too. Last but not least, remember that a PLF can lessen the possibility of serious injury when your landings don’t go exactly as planned. And while we’re at it, let’s give the jumper in this story a little bit of credit. He did the best PLF he could under the circumstances and walked away to jump again the following weekend.
Ed Lightle | D-5966