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Skydiving is DANGEROUS. Or is it?

Updated on January 8, 2009

As an avid adrenaline junkie, I recently decided to try something new in an attempt to find a good rush. I found an airport nearby that offered skydiving courses for the beginner and they allowed a first time jumper to skydive alone after taking their 4-hour course. Count me in!!

Most of the class consisted of teaching us how to recover from a disabled canopy (that’s skydiver talk for a parachute that didn’t open properly.) With each scenario given, we were taught to disconnect from our canopy and pull the reserve if the main canopy was not opened properly within 5 seconds of deploying it. As we were learning the different ways skydiving could kill us, the instructor made a very interesting statement. He said, “With most sports you’re alive until something goes wrong. With skydiving your dead from the beginning and you hope everything goes right.” Well that’s nice. Maybe it’s time I finally write a will.

What exactly can go wrong?

 There are several different ways a canopy can open that could cause the diver to become seriously injured if immediate action is not taken. A few possibilities are:

  • Line twists
  • Line over (lines wrapped around the canopy)
  • Snivel (slow opening)
  • Canopy not properly inflated (they have cells that fill with air once deployed.)
  • Slider stuck too close to the canopy (the slider keeps the canopy from opening too quickly and snapping the diver’s neck. If the slider doesn’t slide closer to the diver after the canopy is opened it can create problems)
  • Hole in the canopy
  • Tension line knots
  • Broken lines
  • Bag lock (canopy is stuck in the bag and will not open)
  • Streamer (canopy is out of the bag but will not open)

 That is ten different problems that could cause a skydiver to die IF the diver doesn’t react immediately AND the diver’s equipment is not installed with an automatic activation device (AAD). An AAD is a small electronic device that detects the altitude and rate of decent of the diver. If a diver has not deployed their canopy by about 1000 feet or if their rate of decent is too quick, the AAD will automatically deploy the canopy. Sounds like a pretty nifty device.

 Could skydiving be the most dangerous sport?

 Two days before I was scheduled to go skydiving, my friend told me about a recent skydiving accident that ended with a fatality. Not something I wanted to hear, but it did make me wonder just how much danger I was putting myself in.

 I do not know what caused the accident that lead to the skydiver’s death my friend told me about; it could have been any number of things. Most people who die from skydiving do so because of:

  • Bad landings
  • Colliding with other canopies
  • Pulling the canopy too late
  • Waiting too long to cutaway from a malfunctioned canopy
  • Reserve problems
  • 90% of skydiver fatalities are caused by human error

 In 2008 there were a total of 31 skydiver fatalities in North America, most of which were caused by hard landings. I found this statistic to be very interesting because the entire time I sat through the training course, no one asked me about my upper body strength. I decided to do a tandem jump (skydiving with an instructor strapped to your back) simply because I wanted to jump from a higher altitude and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made. It wasn’t until I was in the air at 6,000 feet that I learned I wasn’t strong enough to steer or pull the breaks on the canopy. Long story short, I could have crashed and died had I jumped solo that day!

 Back to statistics: 31 skydivers died in 2008. Did you know there were 31,110 highway fatalities between January and October 2008? Each year there are about 3 million skydives performed, and deaths each year seem to stay within the mid-30s range. Given the statistics I would have to say it’s safer to jump out of an airplane (with a parachute, of course) than it is to drive to the airport to get in said plane. How bout that? Skydiving is a fairly safe sport!

 How can I skydive safely?

 By following these few safety tips, you have a very high chance of making a successful skydive…and landing.

  1. Make sure you’re strong enough to control the canopy!!!!!!!!!!!
  2. Make your first jump a tandem. The rush you get makes it easy to forget your training and you could very easily forget something important like checking your canopy for malfunctions or monitoring your altitude closely.
  3. Wear a helmet and goggles.
  4. Dress appropriately for the weather. Remember, if it’s cold on the ground, it’s even colder in the air!
  5. Make sure you fully understand what you will be doing in the air.
  6. Ask questions about anything that isn’t 100% clear.

 Please remember, I have only been skydiving one time. I am NOT certified (but plan to be eventually). Should you decide to skydive, PLEASE ask a certified instructor any questions you may have BEFORE jumping! And one more thing….

 Happy safe skydiving!

My first skydive
My first skydive


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    • Edward J. Palumbo profile image

      Ed Palumbo 

      5 years ago from Tualatin, OR

      I found your observations interesting. Yes, front riser turns may counteract some rigidity, so that may need a little more effort, but toggle turns are usually accomplished with ease. Hint: set up your final approach by 300 ft AGL and avoid touching down while turning unless you're very familiar with your canopy's performance. Books are available that address canopy control. Since modern canopies are, in a sense, non-rigid gliders, you do well to study their performance, observe (many) landings at the paracenter, ask a great many questions, and utilize training aids available at your drop zone. Wishing you the best in the year ahead.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Tandem canopies are much harder to turn and flare but under a solo canopy they are much easier to control you will have no problem turning or flaring

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      bad and not verey good

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      bad not good

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Riding in a car is more dangerous than skydiving. As long as you have the proper safety gear, are in good healthy physically and mentally, and follow the rules of skydiving you'll be safe. AADs, Altimeters, and Flotation Devices can change the out come of many skydiving accidents. Anything can happen in skydiving. Broken bones, twisted ankles, pulled muscles, the wind can blow you off course, your parachute can get stuck in a tree, and of course death. I know because I grew up around skydiving. Dad made over 6,000 jumps. He died in a Skydiving Accident on 9/11/05.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      As a skydiver, I don't believe it prudent to talk of something which you do not know. You were jumping a tandem canopy (as such the canopy was probably double the square footage of what you would have jumped, and much harder to steer) and secondly you are in an awkward position to steer when in front of the tandem master. I have met 100 pound females who were plenty strong enough to steer the canopy, and, in addition, have NEVER met anyone who lacked the upper body strength to pull down on the toggles. You aren't even comparing apples and oranges here. It is completely different.

      "It wasn’t until I was in the air at 6,000 feet that I learned I wasn’t strong enough to steer or pull the breaks on the canopy. Long story short, I could have crashed and died had I jumped solo that day!"

      That is about as salacious a comment as you could have made. Surely you were looking for shock and awe. Yes you could have crashed and died had you jumped solo that day, but it WOULD NOT have been because you were too weak to pull down on the toggles.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I found a webpage that gives some really good info on skydiving as well as skydiving locations

    • profile image


      8 years ago from Glasgow

      also, do NOT necessarily make your first jump a tandem. they're really expensive and you're letting yourself jump out of a plane with basically no knowledge. it is good to get the freefall and not have to think about anything but really, save some money and get through either the RAPS course or the AFF course on your own. my experience is in RAPS and I know that if you've been trained properly you will NOT forget your reserve drills or anything of the kind, they will have been drilled into you so much that it will be muscle memory. the rush you get on your 2nd jump is regularly more than that of your first so your "do a tandem first" theory falls flat on its face.

      Wearing goggles is not necessary if you're doing a jump from low altitude (ie a RAPS jump from 3,500ft) unless you wear contact lenses or glasses.

      and if you go to a DZ that doesn't MAKE you wear a helmet you should leave immediately.

    • profile image


      8 years ago from Glasgow

      AADs are BACK UP devices, NEVER rely on them. They quite often fail. and yeah jenny is right. while you were writing this article in a way that implies you know what you're talking about did you not realise how much bigger a tandem canopy is compared to one that you would use solo? and also, (provided you jump at a dz that is safe) if you train to do a solo jump you will be tested on the strength of your arms.

      i would also like to ask if you're ill or something? because i see small, skinny girls doing tandems all the time and most of them come down telling everyone how they got to control the canopy... you probably should be able to control even a tandem one. it might be a bit of a struggle to flare it but i can't believe you wouldn't be able to do anything with the toggles.

      i realise i'm probably sounding a bit mean now, but the fact that you have put "make sure you're strong enough to control the canopy" as a number 1 point is making me cringe uncontrollably. what IS it about people posting articles on subjects they know nothing about?!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Hey, I stumbled across this doing some research about AADs. I want to correct you on something. You are definitely strong enough to control a canopy. You may not be able to control a tandem canopy, but a smaller one that fits your height and weigh can almost definitely be controlled by it's user. I've never heard of anyone not being strong enough to control a canopy.

    • skydiver profile image


      10 years ago from UK

      Skydiving has its up's and down's. (Thankyou!) I've never had an accident as such, unless you count my close encounter with an Olive tree. But I have seen a fatality, a few broken bones and my girlfriend being airlifted away to hospital. However, all of these occurences were due to human error (and the fatality was an elderly gentleman who had a mid air heart attack), so I don't really consider it a dangerous sport. There is an element of risk, but if you stick to what you know and use some common sense you can't go far wrong.


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