I was with a few friends in July 1983, participating in an accuracy competition that took place in an amusement park (known as Boudewijnpark) in Bruges, Belgium. We all had 400 jumps or so, and accuracy was not our normal discipline. None of my friends really trained for it or had the right canopies. We spent our time on relative work—the cool stuff.
In fact, the main reason we’d gone to the competition was to get to jump out of the Hughes 500 they were using for the event—a little, fast-climbing turbine helicopter that fit three skydivers in the back and usually a passenger in the copilot seat. The pilot, an older guy, was really cool. We asked him to hover the helicopter long enough for all three of us to exit together, and he did that with no problem.
It was an exceptionally warm weekend for Belgium, so on one of our jumps, we decided to wear only our swimming shorts—and Speedos were “in” back then. No helmet, no goggles, no shoes. It was fitting that our team was called the “Oei-Oei Veugels.” The Flemish-to-English translation would be the “Ouch-Ouch Birds,” or birds whose legs are shorter than their testicles, so every time they land they go “ouch ouch.”
So there we went, up to 5,000 feet. We asked the pilot to hover again, as the plan was to exit with a backflip—two from one side and one from the other. As I moved forward on the skid so my friend could also stand on it, I didn’t notice my reserve handle go behind the door handle and stick. We got into positions and did our Ready, Set, Go!
I still remember the look on my friend’s face during the backflip; It was like slow motion. That’s when he saw my reserve coming out. I only realized it after everything went quiet and I was by myself.
So there I was, in my Speedo at 5,000 feet under a LoPo 26-foot round reserve. I looked down and all I saw was houses. There were some possible landing areas I might’ve reached easily under a different canopy, but I had no chance under a round.
After possibly the longest three-ish minutes of my life, I finally landed in a narrow garden, after falling through a tree but landing on the ground without a scratch. The canopy was caught in the tree, so I got out of my harness and looked for help. There was a high fence around the garden and a house not far, so I knocked on its rear window.
Inside, I could see an older couple looking out at me from behind a corner and refusing to come out. But that was understandable: Out of nowhere, a strange man had appeared in their garden, wearing only some skimpy swim shorts.
It didn’t take long to hear sirens. After shouting to the couple inside the house that I was a skydiver and pointing to my parachute in the tree, I finally got the man to open the door. He grabbed a ladder and helped me get the canopy out of the tree. The cops did come, but they ended up giving me—the almost-naked skydiver clutching his open reserve—a ride back to the landing area.
I’m glad we have square reserves now.
Bruno Brokken | USPA #96017