Over the last two years, the skydiving fatality rate in the U.S. has reached record low levels. Overall, skydivers across the globe are also doing a better job with safety. (Thank you all for that.) But when even one of us is lost or injured in a skydiving accident, it is one too many.
Like so many others who regularly promote safety, it makes me, as a DZ manager, (and I’m sure everyone around me) crazy when I constantly repeat the same old safety advice. But there’s really not much new to add. It’s all about trying to drive the basic safety ideas we already know into our thick skulls. (And as a group, we skydivers have some pretty thick skulls.)
However, it recently occurred to me that there is one idea that I hadn’t shared that has helped me stay safe in the air for the past 25 years of my skydiving career. That idea is: There is no such thing as a safe skydiver, there is only a safe skydive. I’d always considered myself a safe skydiver. But far too many times, I saw safe skydivers get hurt or worse. I realized that it doesn’t matter how experienced and safety conscious we think we are; it only matters how safety conscious we’re going to be on the jump we’re making right now.
After my wife Kristi and I had kids, my outlook on safety changed completely. Simply being a safe skydiver wasn’t enough anymore. I was making about 1,500 jumps a year at that time. Every morning when I’d leave for the drop zone, I’d promise my kids that their dad would be coming home that night. I guaranteed them I would land safely from each skydive I made, and I was determined to live up to that promise. I meant it. It wasn’t about me; it was about taking care of my kids’ dad. If I didn’t think I could guarantee my safety, I would have stopped skydiving.
That’s when I re-examined every part of my safety preparation and discovered it was far from ideal. Though my safety plan (and a huge dose of good luck) got me through my first 10,000 jumps, it was clear that there was so much more I should do if I were going to guarantee my family I’d land safely from every jump.
I immediately started paying much more attention to every detail of my safety procedures, processes and attitude. Before and during every jump, I thought about what I had to do next to guarantee I’d land safely. This included my choice of equipment and canopy, which jumps to get on, what weather to jump in, doing gear checks and handle checks, cultivating better altitude awareness, dramatically increasing my freefall and canopy awareness, not just knowing my emergency procedures but being really good at them, making the decision to cut away immediately if I wasn’t 100 percent sure I had a good canopy, expecting everything that could go wrong to go wrong on every jump, deciding where to land and the pattern to fly while still at a high altitude, sliding in or doing a parachute landing fall if I didn’t think I could easily stand up the landing, making sure the group exiting after me knew how long to wait before exiting … everything. Since then, I’ve not only been a safe skydiver, I’ve been a skydiver who consciously, step by step, makes sure I land safely on every jump I make. I have to; I made a promise.
How could I make a promise like that when my safety may not always be under my control? Although it’s true that someone else could take me out, I feel that by anticipating unsafe situations, having prepared for them, staying on my toes and being extra aware and extra sharp, 99.9 percent of the time I have the information needed to avoid skydivers who are paying less attention and could endanger me. Of course, there are very rare situations—such as running into extreme turbulence that’s not visible—but those are few. I could also get hit by lightning. We take those kinds of risks just by getting out of bed every morning.
I have a proposal for 2020: On every jump let’s all promise ourselves, our families and our skydiving friends that we are going to land safely on every jump. We can do this … I know we can!
Think of the last jump you made. Had you chosen to, don’t you think you could’ve guaranteed you would make all the right decisions necessary to land safely? Think of all the people who hurt themselves by turning too low after trying to make it back to the landing area from a long spot. Had they promised themselves to land safely rather than to land close, they would have walked away uninjured. It’s nearly always some dumb decision or lack of preparation or attention that injures us. Can’t we promise to prepare, pay attention and not make dumb decisions?
So here it is: I promise you that in 2020, I will land safely from every jump I make. I understand this is a pretty bold statement, but I’m making it. I will not get hurt skydiving or do anything that causes another jumper to get hurt. I personally guarantee it. I’m going to make this promise one jump at a time, on every jump. I’ve made this promise to my family for my last 20,000 skydives and haven’t broken it yet. I’m also extra motivated, because after constantly writing and speaking about safety, the amount of crap I’ll get from everyone if I hurt myself would be more than I could take.
Anyone care to join me? If you do, please make the same promise and share it with friends.
About the Author
Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld, D-8424, is an AFF instructor, PRO-rating holder, load organizer (including for many world records), multi-engine pilot, FAA-certified parachute rigger, 4- and 8-way formation skydiving world champion, founding member of FS team Arizona Airspeed and current manager of Skydive Perris in California. He is the author of “Above All Else”—a best-selling book about achieving peak performance in skydiving and in life—and an in-demand international speaker. More information about Brodsky-Chenfeld and his projects is available at danbrodsky-chenfeld.com.