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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

My Fourth Jump

This is Steven Petrick Posting.

For want of anything else occurring to me, my fourth jump.

As I have previously noted, something of interest (well, at least to me) happened on each of my jumps. On this particular jump I "did something wrong(tm)". It was not something I noticed in the moments between exiting the door of the aircraft and feeling the opening shock of the parachute deploying, which was sort of odd. Surely I should have noticed something in my inner ear.

What I did notice was that after the opening shock I could not go into the "let up" position. My neck was pinned down. I could twist my head from side to side, but I could not raise it.

As I twisted my head around, I could see that I was descending somewhat faster than the other jumpers, i.e., I was lower than people who had jumped ahead of me and behind me.

At this juncture I reached up behind my neck to try to determine by feel what was back there.

Take a piece of string, put a small weight at each end and suspend it from the middle. Now, grab the two weights and spin them. Notice how the string wraps around itself? That was my risers.

It was now apparent that when I exited the aircraft I had not adopted a "good body position". Apparently I had left an elbow sticking out rather that tucked up tight to my side. The airflow over that elbow had spun me like a top (as noted, curious that my inner ear did not detect this) twisting my risers like that string. With the risers all twisted up like that, the canopy was not as open as it should have been, resulting in its having a reduced bite in the atmosphere, meaning that it was not catching as much air as it should to slow my descent.

All this I could rapidly assemble from the training I had had to that point.

One might assume that the reaction would be one of panic. I was still over 1,000 feet in the air, falling faster than was safe, with the full knowledge that something had gone wrong. My training had failed.

Thing was, the training did not fail.

This specific circumstance (twisted risers) had been covered in the training. Like so many other "what to do if this happens", like "if you are going to land in water, if you are going to land in trees, if you are going to hit power lines, if . . ." there was a prescribed remedy to the problem. So, having identified the problem, my left arm grabbed my left side risers, my right arm grabbed the right side risers, and as they tried to pull the twisted risers apart my legs began pumping as if I were riding a bicycle or running in place. In short order this activity caused the risers to back spin out of their twist and allowed the parachute to fully deploy.

At that point I continued on as if nothing untoward had happened (looking around for fellow jumpers and making sure I would land cleanly in the drop zone). I did, however, take a moment to think to myself how marvelously effective the training I had received was in that when a problem arose, the solution to it was immediately apparent, requiring no "moment of confusion" or hesitation. The only problem here had been my own mistake in not having that elbow tucked in (a diagnosis of what had caused the problem), something I rectified on my next jump.

I was overall very impressed with the Airborne School's training program simply because, for me, I always knew what to do, and was quite capable of trusting the equipment and my own judgment of whether or not all was well based on that training.

Of course, that fifth jump still wound up being more than a little strange, but that will have to wait for another time.