Another year has flown by, and it’s time to send you my wish list. I would like to see our safety culture keep improving. We have come a long way in the last two decades. When we entered this century, more than 30 fatalities a year occurred in the U.S., but in the last three years, the average has been less than half that at 13. And with 10 fatalities for the year in mid-October 2021, we’re on track to have one of our lowest years to date. Still, every fatality is a tragic accident that affects our sport and the countless friends and families of the deceased. While there have been lots of good things happening in skydiving lately, we have had some low points and scary stuff reported, too. So, as usual, I have lots of requests on my wish list.
- I would like to see the sport continue to demand a higher level of professionalism among its leaders. This not only pertains to the level of education supplied to our students, but also the level of respect given to diverse traditions, heritages and experiences and the rejection of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, religious belief or any other attribute not related to performance or merit.
- I would like to see jumpers learn more about their equipment. No skydiver is expected to have the knowledge of a Federal Aviation Administration-certified rigger, but every skydiver needs to have a basic understanding of proper packing procedures, equipment checks, how the gear works and how to operate the equipment as it was designed. Improper use of equipment due to lack of education is one of the major contributing factors leading to injury.
- I would like to see tandem instructors become less complacent about receiving gear checks and reviewing emergency procedures. Highly experienced tandem instructors are still boarding aircraft with 3-ring flip-throughs (a common problem with tandem risers) that could’ve been caught during gear checks. And some are not following proper procedures in tandem emergency situations. Just a little extra time spent on observation and education could lower incident rates and drag us farther away from the close calls we are having these days.
- I would like to see skydivers who insist on downsizing at a rapid rate to understand what it means to live every day with the hardships caused by severe injury. The physical, emotional and financial toll to the injured jumper and their friends and family can be substantial. When performing speed-induced landings, it is inevitable that you’ll eventually make a mistake and have a bad landing. If you survive the mistake, how bad will your injuries be? Maybe if jumpers who are eager to start swooping a small canopy spent a few days caring for a friend with severe injuries, it would slow them down just a bit. Jumpers can downsize safely, but incident and fatality reports are still filled with individuals who thought they knew better than their coaches.
- I would like to see skydivers use common sense and approach new disciplines in skydiving with caution. Jumpers should seek out training for anything new, or at the very least get advice from more experienced skydivers who have the necessary skills and knowledge to help.
- I would like to see every skydiver approach every jump as if the worst-case scenario on the jump is going to happen and train and be ready for it. I’d like to see them expect the worst but be pleasantly surprised when it doesn’t occur. In the words of Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld, “Skydiving is not a safe sport. It’s a dangerous sport that can be done safely.” Planning for the worst-case scenario on every jump—freefall and canopy flight—prepares a jumper for the inevitable and increases the odds of the jumper surviving the situation without injury.
Finally, I want everyone to have a fun and safe 2022 skydiving season while making a bunch of jumps and having good times at the drop zone. And I’m still hoping for a year in which I don’t receive a single fatality report!
Ron Bell | D-26863
USPA Director of Safety and Training