Two Canopies Out/Reserve Ride
Container: Student Sweathog (M), Ripcord, SOS
Main: Student Manta
Reserve: Orion 215
AAD: FXC 1200 set at approximately 1300'
Temp: Approx. 34F
Winds: SE 5-10
Exit Altitude: 10,500'
On December 13, 1997, an apparent FXC misfire caused a reserve deployment under a good main canopy. The malfunction was resolved by cutting away the main from the down plane configuration. The following is an attempt to put the facts and impressions down before they get distorted or exaggerated by time and memory failure.
I arrived at the drop zone fairly early. My intentions were to make a hop-n-pop using transition gear belonging to the drop zone. My rig was down for modification to the main. No transition gear was available, so I picked a student ripcord rig. It had been over a month since my last jump, so I was happy to have a parachute to use. I did a very thorough gear check on the rig, not knowing who had it before me. It was an SOS set-up, something that I had not jumped since my student days. My normal rig is a BOC, which is quite different from the location of ripcord handle. In addition, I would be using winter gloves, something I'm not entirely used to. I made mental notes of these items and resolved to do plenty of practice on the ground.
The load for the C182 consisted of myself, Charles Thomas, and Dave doing a 3-way; and Sally doing a solo, exiting after us. I do not do much RW and told Charles and Dave so. The plan was a simple dive, with me being base and making simple moves, while the other two docked on me. We had a fair amount of time before our call, so we dirt dived until I had the plan. I suited up early, in order to do some practice on the unfamiliar rig. During that time, the three of us discussed whether to turn on the FXC or leave it off. My personal rig does not have an AAD. We talked about the pros and cons. We knew the possibility of misfire, but with our dive plan, there shouldn't be an altitude problem. The final decision was mine, and I elected to turn it on, the deciding factor being my RW inexperience. The FXC was set at 1300. Break off was to be at 4,000 and deployment at 2,500. We also discussed the problems associated with the unfamiliar gear. Dave warned me, half jokingly, not to go in spinning, trying to find the cutaway handle. I jokingly replied that I would probably go in looking for the BOC instead.
The entire skydive had many potential problems.
1. Unfamiliar gear.
2. Ripcord as opposed to BOC.
3. SOS as opposed to separate cutaway handle.
4. Cold weather.
5. Thicker gloves.
6. Multiple jumper exit from C182.
7. Relative work.
8. Flying and landing a Manta.
9. Using an FXC
All of these items were looked at and discussed. I was keenly aware that these could be dangerous if overlooked. We thought we had a good dive going. I practiced the dive and my emergency procedures until I had them down.
Prior to boarding the plane, I asked for and received a thorough pin check. Once in the plane, prior to jumping, I asked for and received another pin check. On the ride to altitude, I went over the dive and emergency procedures in my head.
The jump run and climb out went normally. Upon exit, I ended up on my back, but quickly recovered and looked around for my first dock. Being relatively inexperienced at RW, I was very rusty. In spite of that, the other two managed to dock with me 6 times. At 4,000' we separated and at 2,500, we pulled.
At the actual moment of deploying, I took an extra 1/4 second to make sure I had a good grip on the handle. When I pulled, it took a little more effort than I was expecting. The resulting delays, were no more than a second. Deployment was successful and I looked up and saw the big, green Manta above my head. I stowed the ripcord in my teeth. I reached up and grabbed my rear risers, as is my normal routine. I tried to pull down on them, but could not get a good grip, due to the gloves. I gave it two attempts before giving up and reaching for the toggles. I deployed the brakes and did a controllability check. The time from deployment to this time was AT LEAST 10 seconds. At this time, I was ABOVE 2,000 feet.
I felt a pop and a tug at my back. My initial thought was, "What could make that?". I looked over my left shoulder and saw that my reserve chute had deployed and was now inflating and rising up to meet the main. Earlier in the summer, I saw a student landing 2 canopies out in a side by side. As I saw the two canopies coming together, I thought that I could land a side by side. I took the ripcord out of my mouth and tossed it, I needed to concentrate. Then the canopies separated and formed a downplane. I didn't think about what the configuration was called, or attempt to match a emergency procedure to that name. I remember thinking that the two were not going to get any farther from each other and it was time to cut one of the two away. I pulled the "save your ass handle", and watched the main go away. It separated cleanly and I was now under an unknown canopy. I reached up to grab the toggles, but the reserve handle was interfering with my winter glove going through the toggle. At this point, I didn't know what was above my head, I wasn't sure of my altitude, and felt an urgency to get control of my canopy and situation. So, I tossed the reserve handle. I grabbed the toggles and did a controllability check of the canopy. After I got control of the situation, I looked around to see if I could locate the main. I saw that someone (Charles) was in the vicinity. I decided that I was still in an emergency situation and I needed to get back to the safety of the drop zone. I flew back toward the drop zone, but only made it to the area between the runway and taxiway. Dave landed near the clubhouse. Sally landed very close to me. Charles had indeed chased down the freebag and main.
Practice emergency procedures! My decision to cutaway, and when to cutaway the main, was based on knowing and practicing emergency procedures. Not only that, but knowing your equipment and how and why you do certain things is important. I did not think, "This is a downplane, and the book says to cutaway from a downplane." I thought, "I want these canopies to be as far apart as they can before I cutaway." Granted, this is probably the lowest pressure of all cutaway scenarios, but if not done right, could have caused a bounce. I also think that I was mentally prepared for a malfunction because of all the problem areas involved. Although the situation was not actually caused by these areas, an increased awareness of the dangers probably helped.
The only thing that I can think of that I would have done differently is I should have checked to see what the reserve was before I jumped the equipment. I knew the main size, but when it came time to stow handles and get control of the reserve, I rushed, because I didn't know how the thing was going to fly or how fast I would come to the ground.
Yes, I bought beer.
The canopy ended up in the top of a tree approximately 50 feet in the air. We spent hours trying to get it down that day. Eventually, we gave up and called an experienced tree trimmer. The next morning he used his equipment and his climbing skills to retrieve the canopy. Upon preliminary inspection, the canopy seemed none the worse for wear.