There is, in fact, an eleven point checklist that must be in place before anyone can jump from an aeroplane and this was drummed into me during my instructor training.
Getting a “check out” by another experienced skydiver is just one of these points and is carried out with religious consistency before every jump. Not only that, the checker must sign the manifest sheet prior to the plane taking off.
Paragliding seems to have similar systems to help us remember the important things before taking to the air…
“Will Gordie Have His Cat Aboard Today”
“Wind, Glider, Helmet, Harness, Controls, Airspace, Turn Direction”
…is now embedded in my memory as a pre-flight checklist.
All this makes good sense to me, so I was a little more than surprised to see that there are a large number of videos and articles on the internet showing people launching without their legs straps on!
This is virtually unheard of in a controlled parachuting environment.
So I started to wonder how and why it could happen. I see that some harnesses have an additional high-viz red strap to remind folks to connect their leg straps. But the fact that manufacturers have added this on to their design tells me that it’s a very real problem.
So now I’ve added this to my worry list!
During the times in between my lessons with an instructor, I’ve started to practice ground handling in a field near my house.
So I’ll start by laying the wing out, checking all lines are clear, then putting my helmet and harness on. I’ll then turn and face the canopy to simulate a reverse launch.
Now what usually happens is I’ll pull the glider up into the wind and it rises up but often it falls to one side in a heap. So off come the chest strap and leg straps, I dump the harness and go to the wing to lay it out again. A few minutes later I’m back in the harness strapped in and ready for another attempt. This time the wing flies a bit but keeping it above my head proves tricky and again it has a mind of its own and decides to blow off in a different direction.
Frustration sets in…
Again I go back to the canopy and lay it out flat. Somehow the lines have become twisted so I sort that out too.
Back in the harness again and I’m now clipping in leg straps much quicker than before. Wait, don’t forget the chest strap, I tell myself.
After about half a dozen repetitions a red flag pops up in my mind.
Irritation, annoyance and, if I was unlucky enough to have an audience, bravado sets in. All perfect ingredients for an accident.
Luckily five years as a parachute instructor has taught me to recognise this and I adjust my mood accordingly.
However, I can easily see how the wrong set of circumstances can contribute to leg straps being forgotten.
In all my time doing skydiving since the early 90’s I can only remember one reported incident of a jumper not putting on his leg straps.
Fear can be a friend
I’m happy to admit that I was always one of the more fearful skydivers and could often be found double and triple checking my handles in the plane minutes before exit. When packing my parachute I would follow a well rehearsed ritual and never deviate from it in any way. I’m also glad to say that in 15 years of active parachuting I’ve never had to use my reserve. A statistic that is somewhat unusual. I have friends who have had 5 or more malfunctions in the same time period!
I always felt it was useful to retain some fear before jumping even when I was super-current! So I carry this with me into paragliding and now say to myself before lifting that wing:
Check yourself before you Wreck yourself!