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Safe in Skydiving

The United States Parachute Association (USPA) estimate that over 2,000,000 skydives is made here annually in the United States. Sounds like a lot; yet, only less than 1% of our population has ever experienced the thrill of freefall.

We do not live in a risk free environment (or we would all live in a bubble). Each and everyday when we awake and leave our house, we take risks! Driving our cars, bikes, or simply walking down a city street, there are inherent risks of the unknown that may be beyond our control. We minimize these risks by driving slower, wearing our seatbelts, driving safer cars, and never talking or texting on our cell phones when we drive (lol). The real question here is “How safe is Skydiving”?

Every year over the past 10 years, there are approximately 20-30 deaths (Out of 2,000,000) that occur while skydiving here in the United States. If we were to calculate that out, there is actually less than .0015% (less than 1/1000th of 1%) of actually dying in the sport of skydiving. Skydiving is actually one of the safest “extreme sports” that people participate in. Every year, there are over 40,000 people who die in traffic accidents, 3,000 die in fishing accidents, 800 while bicycling, 80 people die by lightning strikes (these stat’s do not include the number of participants). The bottom line here is that there are risks in everything we participate in, in our day-to-day lives.

How Safe is Skydiving Equipment?

A skydiver’s equipment is made up of three main parachute system components and generally a reserve automatic activation device (see below). One main and one reserve parachute are packed into a specialized backpack with a chest strap and leg straps cinched to keep the jumper securely fastened.

Skydiving equipment has advanced considerably over the last several years. Round parachutes are seldom seen these days and have been replaced by modern, rectangular “ram-air” canopies that have better directional control and offer softer landings. Reserve parachutes are typically worn on the back above the main parachute, as opposed to the older front-mount assembly, and parachute fabrics today are more durable. Parachute canopies are usually made of zero-porosity nylon fabric that lasts for thousands of jumps.

No parachute is 100-percent reliable. However, most malfunctions result from human error, not mechanical failure. Main parachute malfunctions can usually be traced to improper packing, poor technique at the time of deployment, or inadequate pre-jump inspection. These errors make it necessary to carry a reserve as well as a main parachute. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires that the reserve parachute be inspected and repacked every 180 days (whether it’s used or not) by an FAA-certified parachute rigger. In the event of a malfunction, the jumper jettisons the main parachute by pulling the cutaway handle. A second handle activates the reserve parachute.

The Automatic Activation Device (AAD)

One key safety innovation was the “AAD” or automatic activation device — which can automatically activate a jumper’s reserve parachute in the event the jumper is disabled or disoriented or has otherwise lost track of altitude. AADs have been around for years, but until the early 1990s they were notoriously inaccurate, having overly broad margins for altitude errors.

In 1990, a German innovator named Helmut Cloth introduced a much-improved AAD known as the “CYPRES”, or Cybernetic Parachute Release System.

Cloth’s computerized AAD (about the size of a pack of cigarettes) revolutionized the AAD, and turned what was once a bulky, students-only device into a compact, very reliable, readily available (for $1,200) life-saving device for all skydivers of all experience levels.

During free-fall and canopy descent, the CYPRES uses computer-interpreted barometric metering to constantly assess a skydiver’s altitude and rate of descent. If a skydiver is descending faster than a certain speed, beyond a pre-set altitude (750 feet AGL), this device will instantly activate the skydivers reserve parachute.

To be honest here: skydiving is not lawn bowling, or underwater basket weaving, but it’s not Russian roulette! With today’s technology and training techniques, skydiving is as safe as any other recreational activity. Out the 30 deaths in 2,000,00 jumps made each year, 90% of those were by experienced jumpers who made poor judgment calls or exceeded their own limitations. Not by first time tandems or students!

Skydivers range from the age of 18 to 96. People enjoy the thrill of skydiving, the camaraderie, the challenges, and pushing their own personal boundaries on their path of personal growth! Whether you’re young or old, or if skydiving is something you have always wanted to try, do not let fear or misconceptions of safety grip you and control your life. Take life by the proverbial balls, and get out there and experience life!