So… A while back one of my videos went what one could call viral within skydiving community and I got a lot of comments, messages, and feedback on it. Some people thought I did well under the circumstances and others thought every action was a mistake and would have done everything completely differently, so I thought I’d open it up a bit more. The problem with all YouTube content and Friday freakouts you see out there is that you don’t have clear and complete information about the situation and circumstances or jumpers’ background. When I uploaded the video, I tried to fill in as much information as possible to the description, but hey, isn’t reading the description a little last season? Plus, I did upload it fairly recently after the incident, and now I’ve had much more time to reflect on the situation and see a wider perspective on the whole day.

You might have seen it, but even if you have, here it is just to refresh your memory:

So, just to paint you a picture, let’s discuss the day. Our dropzone is the biggest dropzone in Finland. Read that again, Finland. Even though we are the biggest, in an international scale, it is still small. We do operate a c-208b grand caravan, but we do only around 10.000 jumps annually. In Finland every dropzone is non-profit, meaning that safety personnel, pilots, instructors, and others are there for the love of the sport and we don’t call ourselves professionals. We do have very experienced people running things regardless.

In Finland we also have this thing called one man’s democracy, where one person (or very small group) can cause a lot of problems to others.  Our dropzone has been fighting in court about the sound of the aircraft and we lost, so our hours were cut drastically and we have to stop skydiving at our home airport at 5 pm between 15.6. – 15.8. in the summer. The funny thing is that we can still fly from the airport, we just can’t jump there. So, long story short, this is what happened in the video. We were going to jump to another airport. This was the first time we were going to jump to that airport since it was the first day when we were not allowed to jump at our own airport in the evening.

The target airport is very small and does not have regular skydiving as you can probably guess from the video. They have just some small aircraft and gliders. The runway is short and in bad condition, but the planned landing area is good. Little hard but still grass and level.

Earlier that day it was windy at exit altitude. Our offset for jumprun was 0.8 nautical miles to the southwest, northwest bound, and parallel to the runway. The main runway 30-12 is 800 meters, so around 0.4 nautical miles just to paint you a perspective. The aerial photo above shows the marker at the planned landing area.

While we were having a briefing for the jump we were discussing the jumprun and had very good photos from the airport. I personally was wondering why the airport is so small in the picture compared to our own airport photo but thought it was an error in printing and was going to raise that idea after the jump. This was the very first mistake I made personally. Had I raised the issue during the briefing, I would have been told that the picture is in the same scale, meaning that the airport is THAT MUCH SMALLER in real life. I know, right? I am a dumbass.

So the picture below shows the spot where the first group was supposed to exit. Pretty far away, right? Well, I have jumped worse so didn’t think much of it, plus there is good fields in the south to land to land and a bigger road if the situation requires, no biggies. Again, I know… Dumbass. Others were also thinking about the weather situation in relation to the smaller airport, but everyone thought the same thing, we’ve done worse and there are fields, decisions, however, needs to be done with enough time.

The pilot was there in the briefing, he is a local guy and knows this target airport well and flies’ gliders there regularly, so I trusted him.

So off we go. There were 5 groups on the plane and I was in the second group. The first one was 4-way free, just like ours. The first group seemed to spot a long time at the door. The green light was on, but we don’t jump just because the green light is on, instead we spot ourselves and exit when we are comfortable. The first group exited and me and one other jumper in my group got to the door. I looked at the airport and oh boy it seemed a bit far. But again, it was supposed to be far. However, I knew we were supposed to be fairly quick at the door and also the other jumper at the door was much more experienced skydiver than I am and started climbing out. So, I thought she was much quicker spotter and knew exactly where we are and followed her lead. Freefall went well and during head-down jumps you can’t pay much attention where you are, also even had we noticed our mistake there was nothing much we can do at that point.

During the break-off, I noticed that here was a lake in my vision. Wait! Lake? I didn’t recall any lakes in the picture, but what are you going to do? Deploy and deal with it after. So I did. I already forgot the lake at this point. I looked at the airport and thought oh boy we are far, but hey, we were supposed to be. That strong tailwind is going to bring me home, just apply some rears just to be sure.

At this point is good to say what some of you might have already noticed from the pictures, the airport is fairly symmetrical. Even more so in real life, let me tell you that. I was looking directly at the runway, and what I remembered from the briefing was where the first group was supposed to exit and where the crossing inactive runway was, so since they took a longer time at the door I can expect to be at the runway level on the jumprun. There were some fields behind me, I noticed them but still at this point, I was under the assumption I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

I was thinking that boy am I moving a bit slow, looked around, and then it hit me. The airport has turned 90 degrees from the assumed direction. Oh boy. So I’m not traveling with tailwind, instead, I’m traveling with crosswind. What to do now? The picture below shows the approximate spot where I was.

Quick assessment of options and one option was to turn around and go for the fields. But crosswind and long distance, I might not make it. Others in my group are still going for it, they are much more experienced than I am so they must know what they’re doing, right? Bit more rears and I’ll make it

Okay, it’s not going to work out. The only option is the road. I let the risers go and started planning my landing on the road. Which direction should I take? I can’t see anything that would indicate any wind direction, so I had to assume the wind died on the ground like it often does during our long evenings in Finland. One way there is a turn and the other would be much longer straight. But hey, there is a car coming from the right. I do not definitely want to end up in a situation where the car comes behind me. So that was the reason why I choose to turn right for the final. Road was narrow and I was a little worried it might not be enough for my canopy, I noticed that there were also smaller trees to the right. Fly with half brakes until the wider portion of the road and then dip. This also gives me some wiggle room to avoid that darn car.

Well, that went pretty much exactly as I planned, and I walked away. And I kid you not, my first thought after landing was that my girlfriend who was there to pick us up and bring us back home would kill me. Luckily, she didn’t. Others were also able to find some landing areas and rest of the groups did better choices and decided to go to the fields next to the lake.

So many mistakes were made, and often more serious accidents require more than one thing going wrong. Even the pilot told us AFTER the jump that he didn’t have this airport configured for jumpruns in his GPS, so he had no idea about the offset, and that was the reason we ended up being that far off. Regardless, as I told earlier, we don’t jump on the green light, we jump when we know where we are at, and he trusted us, and we him.

So, lessons were learned. But what were exactly the lessons?

First of all, if you don’t feel comfortable or you have some concerns about the plan, raise them! There are no stupid questions about what comes to safety. Don’t be that guy who says I didn’t really understand what was talked about in the briefing.

Make sure everyone involved also has everything sorted out, for example, the pilot to be able to fly the planned jumprun correctly.

SPOT. Do not care if the group in front of you is taking a long time, do not let it affect your ability to spot. I hate dropzones where they shove people off with just lights and expect them not to look down where they are. Always know where you are supposed to be during exit and look if you’re there, make sure you know if you’re there or you’re not. If you’re not sure, you are not there and you can always take a go-around to get more time to spot.

Don’t trust blindly more experienced jumpers. I’ve said multiple times that the others were much more experienced skydivers, but in the big picture they don’t have that much more jumps than I have, but they do have a much longer time in the sport. Experienced jumpers are only humans, and everyone makes mistakes.

Dropzone also took their lessons, we still do skydive to that airport regularly. GPS is now configured for jumprun at that airport and by default, we always fly two separate jumpruns to make room for each group. After this first load there has not been off-landings at that airport in almost two years.

Now, after almost two years when I look at the video, I get this surreal feeling. I am not that stupid to make those mistakes that are made to get to that situation, in another hand I’m not that good to walk away from it. I could blame others, I however blame myself, at the end of the day, I could have prevented it.

Squifly Team

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