Photo above by David Cherry.
A hard opening—when a parachute deploys quickly and with force—can be more than an uncomfortable inconvenience; It can be a safety issue. A hard opening may seriously damage gear or injure, incapacitate or even kill a jumper. Despite the complexity in identifying the causes of hard openings, there is one simple, often overlooked action you can take to mitigate the risk: Stop in your tracks! Literally.
At the end of a track, if a jumper returns only to a neutral position, then deploys, the momentum of their forward movement likely will not have died out before that deployment. Executing forward movement using the start-coast-stop method shows how Newton’s first law (a body continues in its state of rest, or in uniform motion in a straight line, unless acted upon by a force) applies to skydiving. Tracking carries even more momentum than forward movement, yet many jumpers simply do not know or forget that they must actively stop their track at the end before they pull. Returning to a neutral body position is not enough. That would be akin to thinking that taking your foot off the gas at a stop sign is enough!
Except in cases of serious injury or fatality, jumpers rarely report hard openings through USPA’s anonymous incident-reporting webpage. However, USPA recently received an incident report that suggests that jumpers sometimes forget to apply the brakes. The person wrote, “This was a violent event in the sky and worthy of documentation. Tracked away from formation group at 4,500 feet. Came out of track and flattened my body position before pitching. Pitched the pilot chute and it literally exploded open. Neck injury and chest pain resulted.”
Flattening your body position returns you to neutral and, at best, slows descent. A good track should minimally—if at all—increase your descent rate; it should instead create forward speed so you can gain horizontal distance. So, at the end of a good track you need to make a good stop.
The body position to stop is:
- Feet in past neutral
- Knees slightly down, keeping butt down
- Cup rolled shoulders slightly
- Push arms out in front of you
After a short application of this body position, return to neutral and continue your break-off sequence.
By literally stopping in your tracks, you can do one more thing to reduce your chances of a hard opening. And as we all know, the little things add up!
Jen Sharp | D-17516
Examiner Rating Course Director; AFF, Tandem and Coach Examiner