I’ve told you about my first chop, the one that happened on my eighth wingsuit flight. Let me tell you about the other one.
My second malfunction had its genesis in far more exciting circumstances.
We skydivers are notorious for inventing new ways of having fun. When it comes to jumping, we’ll try everything and anything.
One of the jumps we do is called a Mr. Bill.
This jump requires one skydiver (let’s call them the “leech”) to climb onto the front of the other (the host) and hold on. The leech wraps their legs around the host and hangs on tightly to the host’s webbing.
The idea is the host leaves the aeroplane, and quickly deploys their parachute. Hopefully the leech can hold on during this stage, and when everything settles down, find themselves clinging to the host under a fully developed canopy.
Once this has been done the host flies over the drop zone, and when everyone’s happy, the leech drops off, enters freefall and deploys their parachute.
It’s basically a bit of work for the host with some great visuals, and a kind of BASE jump for the leech.
25th April, 2008. Jump 402. Almost two months since my wingsuit chop.
I’m in the Skyvan with Tilly, my leech. This tiny young thing weighs all of 45kg wringing wet, so this should be a doddle.
We’re at 4,000 feet and the ramp goes up. I back up to the door and let Tilly climb on. She has her legs wrapped around my waist, and uses her gloved hands to grip tightly to my shoulder harness.
Somewhere, from inside the plane, I hear someone shout “Don’t fuck up!” I look up and see a crowd of smiling faces. Everyone’s keen to watch this exit.
Time to go.
I step backwards into freefall, and almost immediately toss my throwaway handle into the breeze. This will be fun…
What happens next takes me a bit by surprise, for instead of seeing a canopy deploy over my head, I feel a massive jolt on my right foot. My legs swings up sharply, and there are lines and shit everywhere.
“Go! Go! Go!”
That’s all I have time to yell before my body is wrenched inverted. With a surprised look on her face Tilly drops off, and I’m now left with some work to do.
A line has looped around my ankle and is jammed behind the tongue of my shoe, leaving me hanging upside-down like a trapeze artist. The risers are crossed up and half of my canopy is being choked closed by lines going over the top. I’m also turning rapidly.
G-forces prevent me bending up to remove my shoe, something that would let the line to slip off and perhaps allow the canopy to inflate, so one option I have is to take out my hook knife and cut the line.
It’s easy to get the knife out as it’s attached to my chest strap, and in an instant I’m slashing the line.
Unfortunately for me the knife is a cheap plastic unit, one that came with the rig when I bought it.
To say this was unexpected would be an understatement, and what should have been an exciting fun jump has now become an exciting fight for survival.
I’m out of options and can only punch my reserve parachute past my tangled main and hope for the best, something no skydiver ever wants to do. As I reached for my handles I can distinctly remember thinking “Well, this’ll either work… or it won’t”.
Immediately my shiny blue reserve leaves its bag. It bounces off the main’s lines a couple of times and spirals up past the tangled mess. With a crack it opens, and suddenly everything goes quiet.
Ah, that’s better. I’m right-way-up for a change…
My right leg is sore, especially my knee. The main is now dragging behind me, still attached at the ankle, and is spinning up quickly in the breeze dragging my leg upwards as it does so. As the lines tighten around my foot I start to feel more pain, and it feels like they’re going to cut through to the bone.
My video of the incident shows that at about 2 minutes and 50 seconds I let out a huge grunt. I’m in agony. I tried hauling in the main to stop it spinning, but there’s no way I can do that and fly the reserve. I need both hands to steer.
Finally the ground is close, but it looks like I’ll be doing a one-legged landing. This won’t be fun.
With an almighty thump I crash to the ground. The tall grass feels lovely and soft, just like on a picnic, and I can hear my heart pounding under my helmet.
I sat there for a moment, quietly assessing my various body parts. My ankle was hurting a bit; well, throbbing like buggery actually, and my right knee felt a bit loose and wobbly too. Apart from those injuries everything else seemed to be working.
Back at the drop zone I start to receive enlightenment from those on board. Apparently when I threw my main handle the deployment bag which contains the main parachute rolled down the back of my legs as the lines fed out. This allowed a line to half hitch around my ankle and prevented any chance of correct deployment. It is surprising I had any canopy out at all.
Medically I did ok. I suffered some nerve damage in my ankle causing loss of feeling to the top of my right foot. It took about eighteen months for that feeling to return. My knee repaired itself as well as it could, but as any ex long distance runner will tell you, once the damage is done…
So there you have it. That was my second chop. I’ve since performed another 700 jumps without incident and am still loving this sport.
I was surprised when the incident occurred, but I was also amazed by my response. Perhaps because I’d had a chop only a few weeks earlier I had no sense of panic. No fear, no screaming and thrashing about like a dickhead. No, if anything I had an inner calm and a sense that it would be ok. I knew I could only do what I could only do.
That second malfunction taught me a huge life lesson.
Shit happens, and when it does, you just have to deal with it.
See this article’s video at my facebook page.
Then have a look how it should have worked. Here’s one of my successful Mr Bill jumps