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Emergencies

Home Up Safety Training Emergencies Regulations

 

[ Prevent / Plan ] [ Communication ] [ Docking ] [ Canopy Deflation ] [ Wraps ] [ Entanglements ] [ Emergency Procedures ]

    The term emergency evokes feelings of fear and trepidation into the minds of most mortal beings. Most people think of panic, high risks, and the possibility of massive injuries or death. But this is not the case at all.

    An emergency is simply a deviation from normal parachuting activity that requires recovery action and if unsuccessful, the initiation of emergency procedures. Most emergency scenarios in parachuting are known and have a relatively simple action plan to resolve the emergency. This is why good instruction and developing your skills in a logical & sequential manner are so important. If you prepare well, you reduce the likelihood of being involved in an emergency, and you are better positioned to cope with an emergency if one occurs.

    In CRW, emergencies are caused by asymmetric formations, incompatible canopies or flying styles, and formations exposed to unbalanced or excessive forces. In laymans terms, bad docks, bad flying techniques, and incompatible equipment are the root cause of most CRW emergencies. 

    I wont delve too deeply into standard deployment parachuting emergencies & malfunctions as the response on a CRW canopy should be similar to a normal freefall canopy. The main difference that needs to be taken into account is opening shock on high speed malfunctions. There is a discussion in the emergency procedures section below.

    The information below is based on personal opinion, some assumptions, the most common scenarios (i.e. there are situations that may require alternative approaches to the ones described below), and are meant for general discussion only.

    If possible, the CRW pilot should maintain height awareness and heading in all scenarios (less likely in small way entanglements) and never drop an emergency unless agreed upon by all participants.

    Emergency procedures follow a series of steps. Each step includes maintaining height awareness, attitude awareness, and communicating with other people involved. The steps are:

  1. determine that an emergency exists.
  2. determine a course of action based on the type of emergency and altitude AGL.
  3. attempt to resolve the emergency.
  4. if unsuccessful, initiate reserve activation procedures.
    1. follow CRW EP etiquette.
    2. locate handles & cutaway.
    3. clear the emergency area by falling away from it.
    4. commence reserve deployment.
    5. fly away from the emergency area to allow other parachutists room.
    6. maintain awareness of ALL traffic & equipment around you.

Hook Knife Etiquette - To Knife or To Cutaway? That is the Question

    There are two main considerations when using a hook knife. The first is safety. Safety is paramount and overrides all other factors. Keep yourself alive at all costs. This is a decision YOU have to make and are responsible for.

    But you should also consider the equipment in this decision, especially if it is not yours or if you are a part of a competitive team.

    If you make the decision to cut, only cut the canopy material as a last resort. Your first choice should be suspension lines as they are the easiest to replace. The suspension lines are usually the material that is tangled anyway. 

    If you are in a situation where you could safely land your main if your literally cut an entangled canopy or lines off you, would you do this or would you just cutaway and use your reserve? Some people are petrified of using their reserves and they may make the decision to wield the axe, figuratively speaking. I personally prefer cutting away from tangled situations to using a hook knife. But this is a very personal decision and I am in no way recommending anything here. These are just things YOU need to consider.

    My preference is based on the facts that I am qualified to pack reserves, a reserve pack job is easier and cheaper than a repair job, I can be back in the air quickly, I have 100% confidence in the reliability of my reserve (again ;) ), it takes longer to repair canopies and lines than it takes to pack a reserve, repaired canopies may have different flying characteristics to the original canopy which will adversely affect the performance of a team/formation, I BASE jump and am comfortable with one canopy, I have had around 35 reserve rides - most intentional, and it takes time and altitude to cut through a series of lines.


Prevention / Planning

    Avoiding emergencies begins well before you step into a plane. Risk management begins well before you undertake any activity.

    Just like any other aviation activity, it is very important to remain height aware throughout a descent. The height you are at will be a major factor in determining what your course of action will be in an emergency. Most comments below assume you are several thousand feet AGL. The rules change as you get lower to the ground.

    It is also very important to give yourself a comfortable margin for error. This is best achieved in CRW by ceasing all CRW activity by 2500 feet AGL. The more aggressive and/or risky your planned manoeuvre, the higher you should perform it.

    To avoid CRW emergencies, undertake a quality course of instruction from experienced and qualified people, use CRW specific equipment, learn via a structured, step by step approach, follow CRW safety principles and etiquette, realistically assess your abilities, experiences, and skills, be in a fit & mental state to do it, do it at the right altitude, and communicate well throughout.


Communication

    Communication is a critical part of managing emergency situations, and it begins well before you get into the plane. It starts with your student training (fundamentals), continues during the skill development phase, and is a critical part of not only every new CRW manoeuvre you attempt, but of EVERY jump you make. This means listening, learning, and talking to all participants throughout your jumping career and particularly before & during each jump.

    Plan your jump thoroughly with all participants prior to the jump and maintain the communication throughout the jump. It is important to keep the communication as simple as possible during the jump by using key words or signals. Agree to the words prior to each jump. Each word should be distinguishable from others and should not be mistaken for other terms. "No" sounds like "Go" is a classic example. Another example is the use of a negative - do not say "don't cutaway" as the other person may only hear "cutaway". Use positives only. You need to allow for wind noise and reduced hearing effectiveness due to objects (helmet) and materials (canopy) dampening the sounds. You may have to clear your ears on descent. Practise the key words on the ground.

    If an emergency situation develops, it is extremely important to discuss the situation with other people involved before acting. You will usually have ample time and altitude to do this if you have maintained height awareness and stuck to the break off height. The jumpers should make their intensions very clear to each other and should check that the other person understands what they are planning to do.

    The most valuable information that people require during an emergency is the altitude, a description of the problem, and the planned solution.

Key CRW terms:

  • Cutaway.
  • Go (or use a whistle).
  • Next.
  • Break it Down.
  • Left.
  • Right.
  • Slowly.
  • Up.
  • Down.
  • Drop me.
  • Risers.
  • More.
  • Less.
  • Toggles.
  • Hold on.
  • Wait.
  • Lines.

    Never panic and given sufficient altitude, do not initiate emergency procedures until you communicate with other jumpers involved.


Docking

    The relative direction and speed of a dock will determine the outcome. Both the person docking and everyone in the formation are responsible for controlling the quality of the dock. In order of responsibility they are:

  • everyone. Just thought I'd emphasize the point that CRW is a team activity and we are all responsible for each others safety.
  • the person docking. You have the final say on whether to dock or not and you have the greatest control of relativity and speed. Keep it smooth.
  • the pilot controls the flying characteristics of the formation, including the heading. Don't turn it towards the person docking. The descent rate and forward speed also has a big impact on what the docking person does. A high descent rate will usually mean that the docking person has a greater distance to travel to get to the formation. This will usually mean he will travel with greater speed.
  • the previous docking person. The worse their dock, the greater the likelihood of instability in the formation and the harder it is for the next person to target the formation accurately.
  • the catcher. Catch cleanly to make the docking persons job easier, and maintain headings, harness balance, even toggle pressure, control descent rate, etc.
  • parachutists within the formation. Everyone must maintain formation discipline to keep the formation flying as efficiently and as stable as possible.

There are three basic things that are most likely to cause problems when docking. They are:

  • the angle you dock at. You should be flying in the same direction as the formation you are docking on. If you dock at 90 degrees (side on). You will end up in a wrap. A dock at 180 degrees will usually end up in an entanglement or wrap.  
  • the speed you dock at. If you hit a formation at twice its speed, it will literally knock the air out of your canopy and cause it to wrap around the person you are docking on, especially if you are doing pivot point docks such as a stack or stair step. This less likely to occur on plane docks. This is why Rotations parachutists can dock so hard and sequential jumpers must be gentle. 
  • how far off the target line you dock at (i.e. docking with an end cell on a plane formation). If you are intending to do a stack dock and you hit with a little sideways momentum and closer to the end cell, you are more likely to end up in a wrap.

    The key thing to remember is to fly with the formation, become a part of it, blend into it. Don't try to force your way into it. Nylon and string societies do not recognise foreign invasions, they are a peaceful group. But if they are going to be attacked, they will take you down with them. ;)  


Canopy Deflation or Hinging

    Older seven cell parachutes would often de-pressurise as a result of a poor dock. This would lead to cell closure, partial shutdown, or total deflation of a canopy. The most common scenario is a stack dock leading to a wrap. The common practice is to untangle the mess if possible, and literally "shake" air into the canopy to initiate re-inflation. If shaking the deflated canopy does not reinflate it, dropping it from the formation gives it some more air speed which will usually reinflate it (akin to a secondary deployment of the canopy). The person being dropped must be prepared for possibilities such as line twists and cell closure. If the person who is wrapped is unable to drop the canopy away, the bottom person would then have to commence emergency procedures. The wrapped person then attempts to clear the mess away from their body.

    Modern CRW parachutes have been designed to maintain and/or attain pressurisation regardless of what forces they are exposed to. They tend to hinge or bend at the point where they hit another parachute or person and then bounce off it. They also tend to pressurise faster. The deflation scenario is also possible. This has meant that CRW jumpers (Rotations and 8 Way Speed plane docks in particular) can dock at greater speeds and forces than before, which in turn has improved times.


Wraps

    This is when a parachute wraps around a body and is usually caused by one parachutist docking his canopy at a poor angle or speed around the body of another parachutist. This is a low speed emergency as you usually still have at least one fully inflated parachute above the wrap. This is a supported situation. If a cutaway is required, the lower person usually has first right of way.

There are several scenarios. The titles I have used are an attempt to describe each scenario, they are not official CRW jargon. I have also separated the scenarios into 2 ways and Bigger ways. Students should only learn the 2 way techniques first.

    The pilot should maintain heading (minimise turns) and height awareness throughout. The bottom person should communicate what he sees (lines, location of feet, where tangled, etc) to the pilot as it is sometimes difficult for the pilot to see what is below the canopy material. The pilot should not drop the bottom canopy unless all other options have been explored and all persons have agreed to pursue that option.

2 WAYS

1 - Deflation Around Lower Body

    The pilot should locate the leading edge top skin of the wrapped canopy and attempt to shake it out (to the side) from his body. The further you can reach away from the centre cell, the better. The pilot is trying to reinflate the lower parachute. If unsuccessful, the pilot should drop the bottom parachutist and allow airspeed the opportunity to reinflate the parachute. If the bottom parachutes does not reinflate, the lower person should initiate emergency procedures. Be careful not to drop the parachute directly into other people or the path they are flying. Other people should keep the area clear too.

2 - Deflation Around Lower Body With Tangled Lines

    Try to untangle the lines first and then follow the procedure from situation 1 above.

3 - Deflation Around Upper Body

    In this case, there is a chance that the pilot will not be able to see anything and that his hands may not be free at all. If the bottom canopy is totally deflated, there is also the chance that the weight of the lower parachutist may make it difficult to lift and manoeuvre lines around to untangle them. Another issue is if the canopy is twisted around the head or risers of the person above, it will be almost impossible to move the canopy from the narrower risers past the wider body. There is also a greater chance that maintaining heading and descent will be more difficult due to interference with the brake lines of the top canopy. Make an attempt to clear the mess from above you to below, and then follow the procedure situation 2 above. If the bottom person cuts away, the top person should attempt to clear the mess and throw it off themselves. Due to the chance of line entanglement, interference with control lines, and the possibility of reinflation, the top person (pilot), may have to consider a cutaway.

4 - Deflation Around Upper Body With Tangled Lines

    This is the situation where you are most likely to have to use your hook knife. It is more like an entanglement than wrap. Try to untangle the lines and focus on keeping them away from your reserve equipment. Then follow the advice from situation 3 above.

5 - Fully Enclosed Wrap

    Trying to locate anything is difficult due to a lack of visibility. Always try to clean the mess and get the bottom canopy flying. Try to get your head and/or your hands free at a minimum. Failing that, follow the advice from the steps above as appropriate. DO NOT be the first to cutaway in this situation. You have a higher chance of surviving a spiralling landing than an enclosed fully deflated wrap. Keep the inflated canopy above your head until you are sure that you can clear away from the wrap to deploy a reserve. Despite the protests of the person below you, you may have to use your hook knife to give yourself some breathing space. 

6 - High Tension Restrictive Enclosed Wrap

    Now we are getting really exiting. This is very uncomfortable, especially if you are claustrophobic. The tension is created from the weight of the lower jumper and/or the spiralling action of the canopies. As always, try to clear the mess to get yourself into a simpler situation. You are more than likely going to be constrained in this scenario and your first step will be to reduce the tension. Try to stop the spiralling action first by using all means possible (harness balance, control inputs, etc). Then try to resolve the weight issue. Usually this will require the bottom person cutting away but it may also be achieved by altering where the tension is acting. Sometimes another option in scenarios 5 and 6 is for the bottom person to cutaway and for the pilot to push all the material up and then cutaway as well.

    In each of the above situations, your objective is to move yourself into a higher situation (i.e. situation 2 -> clear lines -> situation 1 -> drop parachute = resolved) as they are easier to deal with.

    If you are below a safe cutaway height, you have a number of options. One is to land the formation as is. Due to a much higher descent rate and drag from the collapsed canopy, the flaring capabilities are much lower. The landing will be much harder. You could try landing in softer areas such as water, shrubs, etc but this adds complexity, risk, and other hazards. The other option is to for the lower man to do an inflight transfer.


Entanglements

    This is when parachute equipment tangles up together and is often caused by the body of one parachutist passing through the lines of another parachutist. This may be either a low or high speed function and has the potential to change from one to another very quickly. There are usually heading and descent issues (entanglements often spiral). This situation usually requires  quicker action than a wrap. This situation usually spirals with both canopies and lines tangled in the centre of the situation and the jumpers on the outside, clear of all material. The canopies often collapse and reinflate. It is an unsupported situation.

    If there is ample altitude, you should make an attempt to untangle by following the lines out. Consideration should be given to situations where material is rubbing against other material at high G forces. This will lead to equipment damage and you may be better off disconnecting the main parachute to minimise this damage. Remember that your choice should be based on self preservation first and equipment preservation second.

    If a canopy collision is imminent, the jumper should protect their reserve rip cord with one hand and spread the other hand and both legs to catch as many lines as possible. This may stop or minimise lines passing through. If you cover your face, your handles will be reasonably well protected because your arms/elbows will probably cover your handles anyway. Remember to consciously do this. It can be very problematic to have a reserve deploy into an entanglement.

    The higher person has priority in cutting away in entanglements. He must ensure that there are no lines or material still connected to his body prior to cutting away. Otherwise he'll take the canopy and the lower jumper back into freefall with him. This could be ugly if trying to deploy a reserve whilst in this situation. If you can't manually untangle the mess, use a hook knife if necessary. 

    There are several reasons why the higher person gets priority.

  • the lower person will be able to load both canopies if they remain connected after the top person cuts away. He is more likely to stay below the canopies due to his weight. Once the top person is out of his way, he can then safely cutaway and deploy his reserve.
  • the top person is more likely to be tangled/wrapped with lines and material and the bottom person is more likely to be clear of material. Give the person in the worst predicament the best chance to escape. The top person should cut the tangled material prior to cutting away.
  • if the top person cuts away first whilst he is caught up in lines, he may radically alter the orientation of the situation and leave the bottom person worse off. The bottom person may become the top person.
  • depending on how the entanglement and canopies are moving (note that I am not using the word flying anymore), a cutaway deflated canopy may wrap the higher jumper and leave him in a mess whilst in freefall. He may not be able to access his reserve handles and his reserve may be covered.
  •  and is closer to both canopies and is more likely to remain tangled (or become involved in an enclosed wrap) if the bottom person cuts away first.

    If you find yourself below a safe cutaway height, your only option is to deploy your reserve and start praying to your chosen spiritual leader.


Emergency Procedures

    Some consider CRW to have multiple decision altitudes.

    The obvious one is the height you must initiate emergency procedures as a result of a malfunction in order to prevent high speed impact. You must allow a realistic height and time for:

  •  a full reserve deployment sequence, time to fly back to a safe landing area, and response to issues related to the opening of the reserve (line twists, cell closure, etc).
  • the parachutist to assess the situation, determine a course of action, and to follow through on those actions.
  • flying characteristics of your main parachute, reserve parachute, the formation you are planning, and the descent rate of the worst case scenario entanglement.

    The second one relates to opening shock of the main parachute at high air speeds. Most CRW parachutes are packed to open quickly and have aerodynamic characteristics that promote this. The higher the airspeed when you deploy, the greater the opening shock. Hence the second decision altitude is in fact a decision time as opposed to an altitude. If you do not have an inflated parachute above your head after a predetermined length of freefall time, many CRW jumpers choose to initiate emergency procedures. This is a personal decision.

    The third is much more complex and depends on the situation. Time is the main factor that will determine the altitude. The faster the descent rate of the emergency situation, the sooner or higher the decision will have to be made. For example, a down-plane descends much faster than a stack, hence you should have a higher decision altitude.

    The easiest and safest way to deal with all these scenarios is to determine the worst case scenario and set one decision altitude based on this. It is strongly recommended that you cease all CRW activity by 2500ft AGL. If required, you should commence your emergency procedures by this altitude. Any deviation to this should be risk managed accordingly.


    Do not commence emergency procedures until you have made every attempt to clear the problem as the consequence may be worse than the problem. Deploying your reserve into a wrap will often lead to a main / reserve entanglement. In other words, if possible, cutaway first, delay until you are well clear of the emergency area, and then deploy your reserve. Be aware that other jumpers or equipment may be coming your way, so fly away from the area directly beneath the emergency.

    If more than one jumper needs to use their reserve, allowance should be made for deployment separation. This can be achieved by staggering the initiation of emergency procedures and the length of delays.

    It is courteous to other jumpers to ascertain the whereabouts of disconnected equipment. Follow reserve free-bags and main parachutes whilst considering your personal safety. It is better that everyone land together if an emergency occurs.

    As a final note, regardless of how bad your situation is, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, ever give up. 300ft off the deck is still an opportunity.


Following are notes & other ideas relevant to this section that require further development. Please ignore.

If you have to cutaway, do look below first if at all possible. Especially on a big way, there can be canopies all around, and you don't want to safely cutaway from a wrap, only to freefall into someone else's canopy. Freefall for at least 5-10 seconds altitude permitting, in case others above you may follow you into freefall.

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Copyright 2005 OzCRW. Last modified: May 16, 2005