Anatomy of a Chop

My new wingsuit
From Phoenix-Fly

Log entry March 30, 2008

Jump number 358

It’s a two-way Wingsuit jump, my eighth on the Firebird GTi, and I’ll be flying with Laurence.

More experienced than me she’ll set the pace, and my hope is that I’ll be able to keep level and match her speed.

We exit at 12,730 feet, and I follow Laurence as we peel left.

The run back towards the DZ starts well, and we seem to be holding the formation with ease. I’m flying my butt off to stay with her but manage the occasional glance at the scenery below.

I notice we’re deep, but we do have a stiff tailwind so it shouldn’t be a problem.

At 5,500 feet I see Laurence wave off. Three heel clicks warn that she’s about to commence her deployment, but I’m so excited about the whole experience that I can’t contain myself.

I give her a huge hand sign and scream my lungs out as her canopy opens, and although she can’t hear me I yell “I LOVE THIS SHIT!”

Seconds later it’s my turn. I’m now down to 4,500 feet and it’s time for action.

I give the wave off sign and reach back for my main handle. Grasping it firmly in my right hand I throw it as far as I can – it needs to grab some clean air to do its job.

There’s only one problem; in all my excitement I forgot to stay symmetrical and my other arm, stuck out in the breeze, is catching air.  As my container starts to open I know I’ll have some issues. I’m turning left.

I feel my canopy start to inflate, but the picture I see is wrong. Instead of blue above and green below I see a twirling mixture of colours. My canopy isn’t horizontal it’s angled, and all I can see is the world turning around and around.

My line groups, instead of leading neatly upwards have twisted, deforming the canopy, making it impossible to either fly or steer. It’s spiralling downwards fast, and as it does so the lines are twisting more.

And it’s getting worse.

After deployment a wingsuit pilot needs to unzip the arms to allow the steering toggles to be used. I try to free my right arm but the zipper jams – loose strands of fibre caught fast- and no amount of effort would make it budge. I try again.

It was then I heard the audible altimeter in my helmet. Set for 2,500 feet it was screaming at me, telling me it was time to make a decision.

It’s a simple choice really. Pull a handle to cutaway the useless main parachute and deploy my reserve, or keep struggling with the mess I was in in the hope I could fix it in time.

I chopped, and in seconds was suspended under a brilliant blue reserve parachute. It was a lovely sight. The main on the other hand had disappeared, making its way down to a huge area of bush and settling somewhere in the deep green forest below.

The remaining flight was fairly uneventful, apart from having to land off in a paddock. I just didn’t have the height needed to get back to the drop zone.

Back at the drop zone I suffered the usual inquisition. What happened? Why did you chop? What did you do? Where’s your main?

That last question was the most important to me at that time. I knew the answers to all the others, but this last one was a $2,600 question. That’s the replacement cost.

It took three days but my tenacity paid off. I found the main deep in the bush dangling over a creek, completely shaded and undamaged. My rigger checked it over and declared it serviceable, and once a few other parts were purchased the whole rig was back together.

My insurance company loved me, so much so that they rewarded me with a fine bottle of wine at the parachuting conference later that year.

That was four years ago. The GTi was sold in 2010 so I could concentrate on other areas in my skydiving career, but I’ve never lost my passion for wingsuit flying.

In fact, I just ordered a new one…


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