|Description: There was an 11-way RW formation, jumpers tracked off, and 2 experienced jumpers (1000-2000 jumps) had a canopy collision during opening. Their Neptunes/Altitracks showed that they opened between 2000 and 2500 feet. They hit body to body and their canopies entangled. Both cut away at a low altitude. One jumper was jumping a Vector rig with a Skyhook. The Skyhook did its job amazingly well. The other jumper was jumping a Javelin with the RSL hooked up, but the reserve didn't have time to open.
Following an uneventful 11-way group freefall that broke off at 5,000 feet, this jumper deployed his main canopy at approximately 2,000 feet. Once his canopy inflated, it began to turn in an unreported direction. Shortly after, this jumper collided with a second skydiver from his group who had experienced line twists upon deployment and was unable to steer his main canopy. The first jumper became wrapped in the second jumper's canopy and lines, partially collapsing both parachutes. The entangled jumpers and canopies began to spin, with the second jumper thrown toward the outside of the entanglement and orbiting around the first jumper, who was still caught in the canopies. After 10 to 15 revolutions, the second jumper cut away his main canopy, and his Skyhook RSL activated his reserve almost immediately at an altitude of approximately 500 feet.
After a few seconds, the two jumpers' main canopies disentangled from the first jumper, who then released his main canopy at an altitude estimated at 200 feet. His RSL activated his reserve immediately; however, the cutaway took place too low to allow for the reserve canopy to fully inflate before he struck the ground. He received immediate medical attention from medical professionals on the scene and was airlifted to a hospital, but he died of his injuries en route. The second jumper received injuries to his head, neck and chest from the canopy collision. He was treated at the local hospital and released a few hours later.
As with many fatalities, this was caused by a chain of events that combined for a fatal result. Breaking any of the links in the chain may have changed the outcome. If the two jumpers had been farther apart during deployment, it may have allowed for the canopies to remain clear of each other after opening even though both jumpers experienced canopy problems that prevented on-heading openings. It's possible that the two jumpers tracked away from the formation in similar directions or that other traffic issues prevented them from tracking the direction they needed to go (typically 180 degrees from the center of the formation) to maintain a safe distance between them. Using a flat tracking position can help jumpers achieve more distance from the formation and gain separation from other jumpers in the group.
Skydiver's Information Manual Section 6-1 recommends a breakoff altitude of at least 2,000 feet above the highest planned deployment. This group broke 3,000 feet above the Basic Safety Requirements' minimum opening altitude for C- and D-licensed skydivers of 2,000 feet, which should have provided the necessary separation for 11 experienced skydivers. Both jumpers were using elliptical canopies; the first had a wing loading of 1.5:1 and the second a 1.6:1. Canopies with higher wing loadings can close large distances in a short time, requiring even more space between jumpers during deployment. Jumpers should break off even higher when they are using slower opening and faster flying canopies.
Investigators found the first jumper's main canopy with one brake unstowed, which may account for its off-heading opening and turn toward the other jumper. The second jumper experienced line twists, which would not have allowed for any directional control until they were cleared. Careful packing of the main canopy can help reduce the chance of line twists or a spinning main canopy upon deployment.
Canopy wraps and entanglements are very disorienting and often cause jumpers to lose altitude rapidly due to the rotation of the canopies. Additionally, since each collision and entanglement results in a unique outcome, it's difficult to prepare or practice for the necessary response. Still, jumpers must respond quickly and correctly to provide enough altitude for a successful cutaway and reserve activation. Jumpers in a rapid spin who are surrounded by canopy lines and fabric can easily become disoriented, making it difficult to clear the entanglement and find clear space for a reserve deployment. Therefore, both jumpers in a wrap must communicate, remain altitude aware and react quickly.