There is a lot to be said for any cut-a-away situation. Personally speaking, like any incident, I like to learn from the situations other people get into and learn from them. Hopefully, someone may learn from my experience. Firstly, let me say that I took a course of action, which allowed me to land safely and now, years later, write this article about it. In hindsight though, I would have changed just a few simple things.
The first thing I would change is a part of gear I was missing that day. I did not have an essential piece of equipment, an Automatic Activation Device – also know as an AAD. I had just bought my first rig and thought it would okay to save a few bucks and jump without one. Luckily I had a DZO like Franz that knew better and after told me I was required to have one until I had 500 jumps – sidenote: I wonder if he knew by 500, I would know why I wanted one? To be sure, I can tell you that although it didn’t actually make a difference on that jump, or on any jump I’ve had yet so far, it was one thought that I didn’t need in my mind in the 1/4 second between red and silver.
The one thing I wish I could change, that would have made a difference: I should have enjoyed the ride. I had exited the Cessna (oh.. Delta) at 5,500 feet and pulled at 4,500. It was my first jump on my new rig (a Vector II, Sabre I 190 and PD193 for only $1200, thanks again Mark!) and I’m glad I was on a solo jump and had pulled higher than my normal opening altitude. I can clearly remember the shape of the canopy as it began to inflate; U-shaped, pulled tight in the middle with both end cells out in front. I wasn’t as sure then as I am now – that canopy long retired, but only after I put another 100 jumps on it – but there was no chance that it was going to fly.
I logged that I chopped and pulled my reserve at 3200 feet and I was sitting in the saddle by 2800. I recall that opening, visualizing the pictures I was shown in my FJC and I instantly reacted as I was trained. What I did not do, was breath, relax and think about this situation. Granted, at my frantic pace I did respond accordingly, but I could have done better. I was well above my decision altitude, this was a low-speed malfunction and I was not spinning. I could have taken advantage of the 700 feet I had to spare, easily 15 seconds of safety to better plan my next move. In hindsight, I could have enjoyed my, hopefully only, opportunity to fly under a busted wing.
Of course, had I taken advantage of the time I had and not rushed into executing my emergency procedures, I could have done them more slowly and more correctly: I would have held onto my handles! All in all, I am proud of that jump, as I am with all so far – even my mistakes have been learning opportunities. I would never wish for a cut-a-way, but I am glad I got it out-of-the-way early and as the fresh jumper I was then, I made a series of choices that allowed me to land safely on the ground.
Now, with more than 10 times the number of jumps, sure there are some things I would do differently, but in the same situation (minus the bad AAD choice I had made) I would be happy if any student responded the same – as you’re trained: Was it there? Yes. Was it square? No, execute emergency procedures. However, I could have been more aware of the altitude I had to spare and taken a second to smile and enjoy the ride.