Tuesday, June 19, 2012

How to make skydiving safe

I sometimes read an article, then scroll back up to the header to see if it's from The Onion. This has just got to be a joke.

Tragedy spotlights loose skydiving regulation
The incident is shining a light on an industry that has almost no regulation.
Except there is, in fact, regulation.
The Federal Aviation Administration does, however, set guidelines for tandem jumps like Winoker's. Each such jump requires two parachutes and each instructor needs a minimum of three years experience and 500 jumps.
But experience and equipment are only part of the equation. The USPA says instructors must pass an FAA medical exam - the same exam private pilots undergo.
Which sounds a lot like regulation to me. And nobody suggests that either the instructor or the company he worked for had violated even the smallest one of those regulations. Or even that skydiving is - statistically - an especially deadly thing to do.
The United States Parachute Association says 3 million people skydive in this country every year.

In 2011, there were 21 related fatalities. Of those, just one was a tandem jump like Winoker's.
That's three million skydivers. Presumably a lot of them do it more than once a year. So that's 21 fatalities in how many jumps? Nine million? Twelve million? More?

So let's recap: We've got an anecdotal tragedy in which two guys jumped out of an airplane and subsequently died. I'm very sorry that happened, but I also know which alternate behavior could have prevented the tragedy. I practice it every day. I have not jumped out of an airplane every single day, almost 21,000 times, and I'm not a grease spot. So my way works.

On the other hand, some people seem to enjoy jumping out of airplanes and most of them don't die, either. Still: You're jumping out of a frickin' airplane, man, and you're hoping to be saved by a piece of nylon. I presume everyone who does this is aware that there may be some small element of risk. I presume nobody is being pushed out of the airplane. Because that would be wrong. If pushing unwilling people out of airplanes is not currently against some law, I hereby suggest that it really ought to be.

Short of that, though, what's the problem? How would stricter regulation have prevented this tragedy? The writer/advocate never gets around to mentioning specifically how he'd have fixed this. But I can guess that "ban the sport" at least briefly crossed his mind.


crazyfool said...

Not only do the folks who do this presume there is some small element of risk, the sole reason they do it is _because_ there is an element of risk.

Anything that is perfectly safe is perfectly boring (and probably perfectly useless as well). Those who desire the maximum degree of safety are boring, uninteresting people, unfit for civilized society.

Ken Hagler said...

I know. Someone who actually did get pushed out of an airplane, but as any new government regulations will no doubt exempt the US Army, they wouldn't have done him any good.

Jim said...

Ken -- I wonder if we know the same guy. Pushed out of a chopper by squad mates at insufficient altitude. (Officially, he "fell.") Discharged with a nice disability pension and became a DNR cop. Most of his later acquaintences would have been willing to take him up for a retry.

John Venlet said...

Though jumping out of a perfectly good airplane sounds kinda crazy, the thought does appeal to me.

I also know which alternate behavior could have prevented the tragedy. I practice it every day. I have not jumped out of an airplane every single day, almost 21,000 times,...

That was good, Joel.

d said...

I do it all the time. Skydiving is good clean safe fun as far as adrenaline rushes go...