When I started redesigning this
site I said "I have No opinion about anything right
now" (and according to at least one person) that's a Good Thing!
Of course, it was way too good to last........
I read the recent report in Skydiving Magazine about the terrible incident where a woman fell out of a tandem harness at AirOhio. While I applaud Ted Strong for his quick, and thorough, investigation and response I don't believe it is enough, nor does it touch the core problem that contributed to this tragedy.
We, the sport of skydiving, all contributed to the incident.
While tandem skydiving has opened up the sport to a wider range of people than would have been possible before, I truly believe we have become too casual. Almost every tandem instructor training program emphasizes that “A Tandem is not just another Skydive” and yet a quick look at forums such as those on dropzone.com reveal threads asking what the instructor does up there behind the student (how about flying the tandem, touching the handles, reviewing the emergency procedures, ensuring the student is doing okay and is ready for the deployment for a start), we see photos of instructors geeking and hamming it up for the camera, covering their students eyes and other such antics.
Then there are the frequent reports of people being taken on tandems in their nineties and a recent report in Parachutist Magazine showed a man who was 100 years old being taken. Well, God bless him, and we pulled it off this time, but what would the article have read if there had been a hard opening that broke his neck or if the pair landed off and broke his pelvis/femur/back? We take paraplegics, geriatrics and overweight, and out of shape, students and usually we get away with it. However we open ourselves up to an exponentially increasing range of risks every time that we do this on “Not just another skydive” and occasionally it bites us in the ass. Two people have fallen out of the harness in under a year and if we are to be brutally honest, neither one of them should have been on a skydive in the first place.
This sport is not for everyone, nor is it suited to every physical ability (or lack thereof) or bodystyle. However for a variety of reasons including, but not limited to, overconfidence, inflated egos and a rush for income we open it up to them. We should not, therefore, be surprised when we kill a couple of people that we allowed to do something that they were patently NOT suited for.
The woman who died at AirOhio illustrates this clearly. AirOhio's website states that tandem students should weigh no more than 250 lbs but must be height and weight proportional. This lady was almost 250 but about 5'2” and was clearly in no shape to have a tandem harness fitted and adjusted properly, yet she made it through manifest. From the report it is inferred that a different instructor than the one that was taking her fitted the harness, obviously not correctly. Then the instructor took her in the plane without correcting it, nobody should EVER get in a jump plane unless they're ready to leave it as safely as possible. This includes tandem students. When the instructor takes them in the plane they should be ready, in the event of a plane emergency, to be hooked up and evacuated at any time. At three different points in this ladies' first and tragically last, skydive she should have been prevented from entering and leaving the plane, but she wasn't, and now she's dead.
I've been guilty of this too. In my short career as a tandem instructor I've taken people who did not meet the limits set by the dzo, for reasons as diverse as not wanting to disappoint the student, not wanting to embarrass them in front of their friends, because they were brought to the dz by an experienced skydiver and maybe even just to prove that I could. I've had chest straps riding the student's neck because it was impossible to fit the harness properly and taken people that couldn't have lifted their legs on landing with a crane. That's NOT going to happen again though.
I am urging this industry to slow the fuck down.
A tandem is NOT just another skydive, and no matter how good you think YOU are, things can happen up there that we haven't even dreamed of yet. The first instructor to die from a sidespin probably thought that he knew a lot about tandems, yet he had to show the rest of us the hard way that there's ALWAYS something new that can happen, and if you're too busy goofing off for the camera or dealing with a person that shouldn't have been strapped to you in the first place when it does (and it will) happen, then you and your student are likely to meet him at the great drop zone in the sky.
I am urging this industry to slow the fuck down.
I realize that I said that twice, but I think it's that important. Please think about the following suggestions;