Sport > Perris in the Springtime...

Perris in the Springtime...

By GREG MAFFETT
Published: April 16, 2011

It has been almost seven years since I visited skydive Perris. I headed down there right after I started my skydive training. I went down for the wind tunnel. While I was there I took a look at the drop zone and um, was mortified.

Granted I had limited experience as a skydiver at that point, but there was no way I would have even tried to have landed at the landing area here. The operational tempo was entirely too fast. The drop zone featured some of the best four way RW teams in the country. They would blast through their in air routine, pull low, land as close to the packing area as possible and hustle back up in the air to make as many loads as possible. They were shooting for a target that was roughly the size of a basketball court. There is more area here, but the top jumpers were all shooting for the same spot.

Having me in the pattern with these guys would have been just nuts. I walked away and ended up doing my jumping at another DZ near there. 10 miles away at Lake Elsinore you have a landing area the size of a small east coast state. I never minded landing far away from the packing shed and hiking back. So that was my choice of DZ and my risk mitigation approach.

Typical skydiving deaths in the US run from 24-30 a year. That is out of 1.5 million jumps. Overall, the risk is very low. There are drop zone that go decades between fatalities. It's not like people are dropping out of the sky every time you turn around.

Unless you are at Perris. They have had 5.5 fatalities in the past 4 months.

Here is the summary. According to NBC, on Dec 26th, 2010 a jumper with over 1000 jumps died after a main that failed to deploy. February 28th of this year another experienced jumper dies when their reserve fails to open.

The two weeks apart in April there are two collisions in the landing pattern. In the first two instructors die. In the second one is dead and the other is near dead today, in critical condition to be exact.

I don't know how this will play out, but I suspect it will end up being quickly forgotten. Perris has been the home of the USPA national event. It is used by Hollywood to film skydive scenes in movies and TV shows. By and large, Perris is the establishment. When things start blowing up at a place like that, the idea is to ascribe it a statistical anomaly and move on. Can't be a problem.

I don't think the USPA or the FAA will show up and start sniffing around as Perris is a paid in full member of the establishment. They are not considered the problem as they are in the league. The drop zone the rest of the guys hate is Lodi. That dropzone was fined $600,000 by the FAA for a few technical infractions in thier aircraft that never caused a problem. The problem with Lodi, as I see it, is they charge 75% the going rate for guys like me. And 40% the going rate for tandem students. The Lodi sin is basically undercutting the competition. That gets government intervention for sure. But 5 or 6 deaths at Perris?

Whether the data reported by NBC is right or not on the dates, that is a lot of death and destruction at one place. The first accident is curious on the "main failed to open" story. When mains fail to open, reserve chutes are there. Or the jumper makes a decision to land a partially working main. A death by a main that failed to open is very odd.

The second is also odd. A reserve failing to open, what we call a double malfunction, is even rarer. If the rig was packed at Perris, yow, that is at least a back eye for their operations. Could have been packed elsewhere. But still, you have to wonder. In my case, I landed two partially working canopies in Lodi last year based on this possibility. My theory is, if I have enough of a main to land, I'm landing the main. A failed reserve opening and I'm near certain dead. Landing a partially working main is a bumps and bruises event. But for me I seriously avoid the reserve handle if I have enough of my main to get me down.

The first of the April Accidents was no surprise to me. I saw that type of accident as inevitable at that DZ. Too many bodies shooting for the same target. Do that enough and eventually there will be two bodies trying to violate a law of physics. The law saying that two bodies can't occupy the same space at the same time. That law is not like traffic laws or tax laws that you can get around. That law is hard and fast. Two guys broke it and both died.

But both the guys involved were pro's. One had over 17,000 jumps. Lifelong instructor. How did this happen? Most likely it was not just one thing but at least two. A moments inattention. Then the physical issue of shooting for a small target. Add in the possibility of highly loaded canopies and hook turns and the margin of safety is nearly gone. I don't know how many of those were in play. But probably enough to discount the idea that the DZ itself was the problem.

Then the same accident happens again two weeks later. This time one dead and one critical condition. I mean this was yesterday.

I have no doubt that they were back jumping today as if nothing happened. That was the mood at my drop zone today as I went out to drop off my rig for a reserve repack. Dozens and dozens of people all with the same thought.

Can't happen to me...

But of course it can. I mitigate risk like nobodies business. Take every precaution I can think of and even then, I'm at risk. You can never get the risk to zero. All you can do is get it close to zero. And for me that means avoiding Perris not only in the springtime, but all the time.

Any Comments?


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