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Emergency Bailout Procedures, Part III
Emergency Bailout Procedures, Part III
Safety Wise

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January 2002

Emergency Bailout Procedures Part III

By Allen Silver

(Reprinted with permission)

This month we conclude the 3-part series on emergency bailout. This month covers the final, important part - the landing.


In Part 2 I left you hanging, literally, above the ground under a fully opened parachute. Take just a moment to thank God, breathe deeply and absorb the situation before getting back to work. There is still much to be done before your ultimate goal of a successful emergency bailout is completed.

Become familiar with the steering system your parachute has. If your parachute does not have a steering system you are basically at the mercy of the wind as to where you will drift and how you will land. I strongly suggest having your non-steerable parachute modified to make it steerable or upgrading to a steerable parachute. Then have your rigger thoroughly explain it to you.

This is like the stick in your aircraft or your car steering wheel. Not having prior knowledge of its function or use may cause you to hit an obstacle, such as power lines or trees. Whatever steering you have, activate and take a hold of it after opening and do not turn it loose until you have landed. This would be like letting go of your steering wheel or stick. The newer parachutes have some form of ready-to-use-upon opening steering handles. Others require you to steer with the rear risers and some have a 4-line release. Whatever system you have become familiar now. During an emergency is not the time to wonder if you can steer your parachute.

Whatever steering system you have, only pull down one rear riser or steering handle at a time. When you are through turning in that direction return it to its neutral position, but do not turn it loose. Round parachutes cannot be flared for landing like your aircraft or a rectangular skydiver's parachute. Pulling both rear risers or steering handles down at the same time can cause your parachute to lose altitude very rapidly. Remember, only one at a time. Do not pull the front risers down on any parachute that has four risers. This can greatly increase your rate of descent.

To operate the steering system used on most modern parachutes grasp the two steering handles (usually 1" wide webbing) located above your shoulders. Some parachutes use metal rings. Usually the handles are a contrasting color. Your left hand grasps the left handle and the right hand grasps the right one. If you want to turn left, pull on the left steering handle until you've reached the desired heading then return the handle back to its neutral position. Do not let it go. Again, remember only pull down one steering handle at a time. You could cause your rate of descent to increase dramatically by pulling down both handles at the same time. Usually pulling down on the riser or steering handle 6-12 inches, on the side you want to turn, is all that is needed to turn your parachute. It's really quite simple and straight forward. However, lets say you injured your left shoulder on exit or opening shock and want to make a 90 degree left turn. What do you do? Simply, make a 270 degree right turn.

The purpose of your steering system is to allow you to maneuver your chute to the most obstacle-free area possible. This should be away from roads where power lines are possibly located and hopefully it will help you to face into the wind on landing. Facing into the wind will set you up for the slowest possible descent and landing. Also, a steerable parachute will significantly dampen your oscillating, further reducing your landing speed and chance of serious injury.

Do not initiate any major turns low to the ground unless it is to avoid a life threatening obstacle such as power lines. Below 200 feet make only slight corrections to keep you facing into the wind. This will help dampen oscillation also, and prevent you from landing harder.

To better understand how your parachute works let's assume your parachute has a forward speed of 5 mph. This speed can never be shut off, just like on your chute. This is the forward speed most steerable round emergency parachutes average today. If the wind is 0 mph you will go 5 mph in any direction you face. If the wind is 5 mph and you face into the wind your ground speed will be reduced to 0 mph. You will see the same landscape under you. This is the slowest possible way you can land. If you turn and run with the 5 mph wind you are now landing downwind at 10 mph. Obviously, to achieve the slowest possible landing you must face into the wind on all landings. This is the same principle used when you land your aircraft. Now, if the wind is 10 mph and you face into the 10 mph wind you will be backing up at 5 mph, which is the best you can do. You will see the ground moving out from between your feet and away from you. If you turned and ran with the wind you would be traveling at 15 mph and anytime you are running with the wind or the wind is less than the forward speed of your parachute the ground will be moving between your feet and out the back behind you. In other words, from front to rear. I would also like to reinforce the need for people with poor vision to try and secure their glasses or they may not be able to see details on the ground such as power lines.

Okay, hopefully, you have maneuvered your canopy to a clear landing area, have slowed your speed across the ground to the minimum and are facing into the wind. You are now ready to land whether you want to or not.

Press your feet and knees tightly together for better support. Your toes should be slightly pointed to prevent landing on your heels. Your knees should be slightly bent and your legs tensed. Keep about the same tension as needed to bounce up and down on the balls of your feet a couple of inches off of the ground. Do not lock your knees. Keep your hands on the steering system. If you do not have one, grasp the risers above your head. Keep your elbows in and try to look at the horizon, not down at the ground. This will allow you to better judge your drift and to make minor steering corrections to keep you facing into the wind or quartering no more than about 10 degrees.

Just prior to landing, the ground will probably look as if it's coming up fast. To minimize the possibility of injury make sure your feet and knees are tight together and your legs tensed. Try to absorb most of the landing on the balls of your feet. You just survived an emergency bailout and now is not the time to panic. A common mistake at this critical moment is to raise your legs or keep them apart at the moment you need their support the most. Again, remember to press your feet and knees tightly together. At touchdown tuck in your chin, pull your elbows in front of you to protect them and your face and roll whichever way the chute pulls you. This will help spread the landing forces throughout the balls of your feet, your legs, thighs and upper arms (shoulder area).

If you land in high winds and are being dragged on your face you must first roll onto your back. If you have no canopy releases you can either release your chest and leg straps and slip out of your harness or grab one or two lines next to each other and reel them in (hand over hand) until the canopy collapses. If you use the first method release the chest strap first. If you release the leg straps first the harness and chest strap may slip up under your chin and choke you. When you reel your canopy in hand over hand you must hold onto the lines tightly to prevent friction burns to your hands. Keeping a tight hold of these lines, quickly get out of the harness in case a gust of wind reinflates it. Grabbing more than two lines next to each other is not necessary and it makes it very difficult to reel them in, because of the pressure. If you are able to get up on your feet after landing and are still in the harness you can collapse your parachute by running around it, if that's necessary. Once it's collapsed gather your chute tightly together to prevent it from reinflating. Then get out of your harness.

Once you are on the ground and out of your parachute, the canopy can help you be located. Spread it out in such a manner as to attract attention from the air.

In the event of a tree or power line landing you must throw your ripcord away prior to landing, if you haven't done so. It can snag in a branch and will conduct electricity if it contacts a power line. Keep your feet tight together to prevent you from straddling a limb or wire. Just before you land in a tree or wires fold your arms over your face to protect it and your neck. Try to make yourself as thin as possible. Once you stop, if not on the ground, do not move quickly so you can evaluate how well you're hung up. If you're high above the ground any quick movement may cause you to fall. Be prepared, after you come to a complete stop (and not before) to grab hold of a branch. You could seriously injure your arms trying to grab branches before you stop. You must first protect your face and neck. In my opinion a power line landing should be avoided at all costs even it means making a low turn and landing downwind. Hitting the ground hard and risking serious injury is still preferable to electrocution as far as I'm concerned.

In the event of a water landing prepare for a regular landing because the water may not be very deep. I suggest you do not undo any straps until your feet touch the water. Some manufacturers say undoing the chest strap is all right. Check with the manual or the manufacturer of your parachute for their recommendations. Over the water your depth perception is off and releasing the chest strap may cause you to fall out of your harness prematurely. If you undo your chest strap (never leg straps) you must cross your arms in front of the harness to prevent falling forward. This prevents you from steering properly, which is another reason I don't
recommend it.

When you enter the water hold your breath. You may go under the water. Quickly undo your chest and leg straps and swim away from your parachute to avoid entanglements. Don't panic, this will cause fatigue. If you are under the canopy, carefully follow a seam to the edge and swim free. If you are being dragged in the water collapse your canopy as you would for a land jump. Once you are out of the harness immediately swim away from the canopy and lines.

Become totally familiar with getting your harness off without looking. You might want to practice while lying on your back, as if being dragged. Parachutes differ, so you must understand thoroughly how the snaps or friction adapters work on each parachute you may wear.

If you fly over water often, flotation gear should be worn. Generally it is best if it is worn under the parachute harness so you can remove the harness and not remove the flotation gear in the process. Become very familiar with any flotation equipment you wear because if it's the inflatable type it probably cannot be safely inflated under the parachute harness without damaging the flotation device or crushing you.

I suggest carrying a small unbreakable signaling mirror. This can be seen for miles. A whistle is also handy when someone is trying to find you. The noise carries further than your voice. Like the Boy Scouts, "Be Prepared". Some parachutes systems have a spot for some emergency equipment, but if you lose your harness/container (as in a water landing) it will do you no good. I recommend that you carry them on you in a flight suit pocket or in one of those small waist packs.

Even though it may seem as if I've given you everything you may ever need to know about emergency bailout procedures over this three part series, that is not at all true. This has been a very basic guideline and is in no way intended as a substitute for jump training, survival training or even in depth instruction from a qualified rigger. You may even want to make a parachute jump to see what it's like. I highly recommend a tandem jump. Remember this will not be a round parachute, but it will certainly help prepare you to better understand what a jump is all about. This could save you valuable time, if you ever have an emergency. Unless you have proper jump training and actual jumps on the rectangular parachutes a skydiver uses, a round parachute is much more docile and forgiving for your requirements.

My goal has been to get your attitude geared toward looking at your parachute as a real option in the event of a major failure. I'm amazed at how many pilots tell me they have no intention of ever using their parachute. My reply, "I'll bet your attitude will change real quick if your spinning towards earth with only one wing or are on fire". And that is not the time to decide how to bailout. It's now when you are in total control.

I hope none of you will ever need to use this information, but if you do, there is one last important fact you must be aware of. After a successful bailout, it is customary to buy your rigger a bottle of the alcoholic beverage of his or her choice. Personally, I prefer a good bottle of wine.

Please feel free to call or write me with any questions or parachute needs. Ask me about a safety seminar for your flying group. I'm here to serve and help you and look forward to hearing from you. I can be reached at (510) 785-7070, Monday-Friday 8am-4pm (PST). Or write me at Silver Parachute Sales & Service, P.O.Box 6092, Hayward, CA. 94540-6092. Blue Skies....


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