Should I go skydiving?
April 9, 2006 9:05 AM   Subscribe

Should I go skydiving?

I've recently decided to try a bunch of things that I've never done before, and skydiving is on the list. Here are some factors that may determine whether or not I do it:

1) How safe is it REALLY?
2) What are the chances that I'll be seriously injured? All of the statistics I have read were for fatalities, not injuries.
3) Most of the places I checked out require a "tandem jump" (where you are strapped to an instructor) for your first time. Is this actually safer then a solo jump? How do the statistics for fatalities/injuries for tandem jumps compare to those for solo jumps?
4) How do I find the safest place to go skydiving? What are some indicators of safety? (Bonus points for resources in the NYC area)
5) Do you have to be in really good physical shape in order to skydive safely?
6) What are some other things I need to know in order to make a properly-informed decision?
posted by Afroblanco to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (31 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I also have a (7), although it's a little silly and probably only my health insurance company can answer it - in the event of injury whilst skydiving, can my insurance company decline to cover my medical treatment, citing some sort of "Darwin clause?"
posted by Afroblanco at 9:08 AM on April 9, 2006

Jumping out of a plane is considered to be safer than your average car trip. Don't worry so much about safety: your chances of dying/getting seriously injured are virtually nil. Just do it.

I've also heard that most skydiving accidents occur when very experienced jumpers get careless and fail to double check.
posted by koenie at 9:14 AM on April 9, 2006

From the FAQ:
Skydiving is like skiing, roller-blading, skate-boarding or any other extreme sport; there are inherent risks that require careful training and execution. Failure to follow that training can lead to serious injury or even death. Skydiving is as safe as the individual makes it. The equipment is so evolved and reliable that, when used properly, skydiving can be as safe or safer than any other extreme sport. Statistically, you have a better chance of getting injured, or even dying, in your kitchen at home than you do of getting injured while skydiving. Just do as you were trained to and don't bend any rules and you will remain safe. At WSC all skydiving activities are regulated and monitored by PASA (Parachute Association of South Africa) and all our instructors are PASA certified.
posted by koenie at 9:17 AM on April 9, 2006

Concerning physical condition: I had to go to my physician for a checkup before being admitted. My club also requires that every skydiver by properly insured. They have a standard policy you can sign if you want to jump; it's quite cheap actually.
posted by koenie at 9:25 AM on April 9, 2006

Koenie: Considered by whom to be safer than the average car trip? Can you back that up with cites? I don't believe it to be the case, in terms of fatalities per trip.
posted by Justinian at 9:31 AM on April 9, 2006

I've skydived solo and regarding things like 5), I'd say the answer is no, not really. Certainly, amusement park rules apply (heart conditions, pregnant women, etc.) but nothing beyond that.

The most important "skill", is the ability to remember and follow a very specific set of instructions: How to do the jump, how to hold your body, what to do if your main chute fails and you have to open your emergency chute (dont worry - havent seen this happen)

Injuries (not necessarily death) can happen if you fail to follow the right way of doing things. For example, in a solo jump, your arms are extended backwards so that you are falling face-down with your chest puffed-out. This allows the chute to open up on top of you. If you happen to be facing up or sideways when your chute open, the extreme force of your chute opening can "whip" as strong as any whip and cause bruises or injuries.

Again, that was just an example. There are different set of rules for tandem but, as koenie said, "Just do as you were trained to and don't bend any rules" - injuries arise from people getting careless or too adventurous.
posted by vacapinta at 9:33 AM on April 9, 2006

On 3), a tandem is safer for a beginner, because the person you're strapped to knows what they're doing and you don't. Comparing statistics would be somewhat useless, since most single jumps are done by experts, and you are not one of them.
posted by smackfu at 9:53 AM on April 9, 2006

1) 1.4 deaths per 100,000 landings. That's pretty damned safe.

2) To my knowledge the most common injury is broken legs from bad landings, and that it's not terribly common. The only injury that I personally know came from a guy who was getting dropped into a stadium, and ended up hitting some nasty winds, and the side of the stadium.

3) Tandem is safer because the first time you go, you don't really know if you might freak out and be unable to get into position before you deploy the chute.

5) not particularly. it's as easy as falling off a log...

6) it's really, really fun. and beautiful.
posted by I Love Tacos at 9:56 AM on April 9, 2006

I went skydiving, and it was amazing. My first jump wasn't a tandem, it was an instructor-assisted deployment from 3000 feet. Essentially you go out and the instructor deploys your drag chute as you leave the plane, so there's basically no free fall like there would be in tandem. We also had radios on our chests so that the other instructor on the ground could guide us down safely. It's amazing how easy it is to lose sight of the landing area from up there, and I'll admit that I had just no idea of when to actually flare for landing.

Well worth it, though. We spent 3 hours learning how to land safely (jumping off picnic tables onto gravel to do break-falls). You'll get bruised. The best part of the whole jump was watching the plane go *under me to land - I was the last one out except for the instructor, who went by me at about 60 MPH shortly after he deployed my chute. Nobody got hurt, everybody loved it.

It's amazing how quiet it is up there. I'd recommend it unless you're phobic about heights.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 10:20 AM on April 9, 2006

For cars, the death rate is about 1.7 deaths per 100,000,000 vehicle miles. Assuming the 1.4 deaths/100,000 landings figure above is correct, skydiving is about as dangerous as driving 823 miles in your car.
posted by jellicle at 10:23 AM on April 9, 2006

you didn't ask, but since others are recommending based on personal experience i'll just add that i hated it. if you don't understand how people get a kick out of horror films, it may not be for you.
posted by andrew cooke at 10:39 AM on April 9, 2006

jellicle, a 100,000,000 miles can't be right thats an insane number. The sun is 83 million miles away. Now im starting to realize that it was jsut a typo.
posted by pwally at 10:44 AM on April 9, 2006

Yes you should,looks like fun.
posted by hortense at 10:44 AM on April 9, 2006

I'd recommend it unless you're phobic about heights.

I'm a bit phobic about heights, and I absolutely loved it once the chute deployed... before that it was a bit terrifying, the first time.

Second time, that part was just plain fun.

i hated it. if you don't understand how people get a kick out of horror films, it may not be for you.

I can see this viewpoint, but my fear disappeared after I actually went the first time, and gained trust in the equipment. Before the chute opened for the first time, I was willing myself to believe it was safe... afterwards, I really believed it.
posted by I Love Tacos at 10:48 AM on April 9, 2006

Totally offtopic, but pwally also had a typo that I just can't leave: the sun is an average of 93 million miles from the earth, (and a minimum distance of about 91 million miles).
posted by IvyMike at 10:52 AM on April 9, 2006

if you don't understand how people get a kick out of horror films, it may not be for you.

andrew, my favorite part is after the chute opens and you're just floating down with the earth beneath you and nothing around but sky and the rustle of the wind flowing through the chute - an amazing and peaceful experience.

posted by vacapinta at 10:59 AM on April 9, 2006

Response by poster: I'm almost positive that I would enjoy the experience of skydiving, so that's not an issue.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:06 AM on April 9, 2006

It was pure fun. One thing they never warned us about was how loud the free fall is. The air rushing by your ears is incredible.
posted by arh07 at 11:15 AM on April 9, 2006

I did a tandem and the instructor told me I almost killed us because I didn't arch my back and kick out my legs, basically the only thing I had to do (somehow the "holyshitholyshitholyshit" stream of consciousness drowned out everthing I had been told over the past hour). So just don't forget to do that and you should be fine. However, I got some extra freefall out of it, and I was oblivious of the danger until after, so it was a good time.
posted by Idiot Mittens at 11:22 AM on April 9, 2006

The equipment itself is completely safe. It's only human error that ends in injury. I dived tandem, and when the instructor told me to pull the cord, I couldn't find it. I had practiced grabbing for it and knew where it should be, but somehow in the air I couldn't manage to locate it. He had to pull it for me. There's a safety that automatically deploys if you get too close to the ground, so I can't say what would have happened if he hadn't been there, but I would certainly recommend a tandem jump your first time. The experience is unlike anything you've ever done before, and you don't know how you are going to react to it. A tandem jump means less training and a lot less risk, and doesn't take away from the thrill. It's no different than having a driving instructor. They let you control everything, until you screw up. And then you'll be glad they were there. You can always come back and try it by yourself if you end up loving it.

By far the most likely injury would be broken legs because you made a mistake trying to land with the parachute, and in a tandem jump, they are not going to let you hit that hard. It's completely safe. So just choose the place with the nicest view.
posted by team lowkey at 12:42 PM on April 9, 2006

I'm a general aviation pilot, so people who jump out of perfectly good airplanes seem more than somewhat crazy to me. That said, AFAIK, skydiving is fairly safe, but has the same risk escalation problem as most aviation activities: the consequences for small mistakes are all out of proportion, and it is often very small mistakes that quickly escalate to fatalities.

If you aren't the type who enjoys doing things nearly ritually, this might not be for you. If you aren't the type who can check any ego in the parking lot, this might not be for you. If you aren't the type who can think and execute training with your heart in your mouth, this might not be for you.

But strapping up for one tandem ride, just say you did it, and get a video tape? Sure, why not?
posted by paulsc at 12:45 PM on April 9, 2006

Just do it.

I did it for my birthday, and my only regret was that it was semi-expensive. Otherwise, I would be out there once a month or so.
posted by mr.dan at 2:08 PM on April 9, 2006

people who jump out of perfectly good airplanes

You haven't been in a jump plane lately. The ride up's often scarier than the ride down! (Even scarier is the overhaul schedule on those engines. Getting to 10,000' as fast as you can, and then back to the ground for the next load of jumpers as fast as you can, does an engine in quickly, apparently.)

I did a tandem jump from 10,000' a few years ago. It was a blast. You're high enough that freefall doesn't feel like falling. That said, one jump was plenty for me -- it's checked off on the to-do list now and it's not so much of a thrill that I'd want to spend a lot of money and time continuing.

From that wealth of experience, advice: Do the tandem jump first. Solo jumps starting out will be from 3000' or so, with your chute deployed automatically when you jump, and then more and more practice until you finally get to freefall. At that point it would seriously suck if you found that you didn't like the sensation of freefall. So do a tandem jump with a long freefall, and then if you like it continue on your training.
posted by mendel at 2:27 PM on April 9, 2006

Best answer: USPA Class C holder, 220+ jumps here. Haven't jumped in about 3 years or so, but did for 4 before that.

1) Pretty darned safe. In all my jumps I was only injured once, and it wasn't seriously -- Got a rasberry on my ass from being dragged in a cross-wind on a shitty LZ. I had a few friends who got injured over the years, but in thousands of jumps I've seen at various DZ's I never saw an injury to a tandem student. The tandem instructors are usually the most experienced, unflappable jumpers at the DZ, and their equipment is checked the most thoroughly including packing of mains and reserve, student harness, etc. Skydiving in general is a relatively safe activity for the right-minded, and extraordinarily safe for tandem jumps.

2) Extraordinarily small. See (1).

3) Yes, a tandem jump is much, much safer than a solo jump. I was learning during what was probably the last year that most DZ's allowed students to take the AFF without first doing a tandem jump. I'm strongly a proponent of the 'tandem first' rule, because of two things. First, you have an experienced person who's doing all the work. You get to experience the sights, sounds, feel, everything of a jump while not actually having to DO anything. Second, a non-trivial percentage of first-time jumpers just freeze up. The sensations are so overwhelming, and everything's happening so fast, and you have so much to remember that some jumpers just tumble in the air uselessly until their instructor pulls their cord for them. I went with 4 friends my first time, of us 4 passed; the last one just wouldn't pull his ripcord for whatever reason; an instructor had to do it for him. Taking a tandem jump first gets you that past that initial OMGWTF IS HAPPENING TO ME that so many jumpers experience their first time out of a plane, making them that much less likely to freak out when they're responsible for themselves in the air.

4) Certainly a controversial question. The simple answer is: Are they a USPA (United States Parachuting Association) drop zone? If so, they likely meet minimum safety standards that are necessary to make your experience pleasant and injury-free. Beyond that, it's tough to tell. Regardless of how safe the DZ is though, for a tandem the only thing that really matters is your instructor, and my experience as I say in (1) is that at most DZ's the tandem masters are the best guys/girls out there, and you're probably going to be OK regardless of the overall drop zone's safety record. Where the differences between DZ's is more apparent is with the fun jumpers, and the rules of the DZ, what's considered just general acceptable behavior, etc.

I guess this is a long way of saying that if you're just doing a tandem, pick a USPA drop zone near you and you'll almost certainly have a safe jump.

5) No. I jumped with a lot of seriously out-of-shape folks, one pregnant tandem master was probably 6 mos. in before she stopped ! (She was in good shape, just carrying extra baggage.) Especially for a tandem, your job is to dangle from the tandem master and enjoy the show; not a whole lot of physical fitness required for this. There are maximum weights allowed, due to limitations of the equipment, but as long as you're not significantly obese (more than 250 lbs probably, I'm not sure the limit nowadays) you'll be good to go.

6) If you're not comfortable getting on the plane... Don't. If you're nervous about a jump, talk to your tandem master -- They're there not just to strap you to their body while you both jump, but to make the experience as pleasant and safe for you as possible. Likely whatever question you have they've heard hundreds of times before and will be able to give you truthful and full answers to your questions. If you don't like those answers, nothing says you have to get on the plane, let alone jump out of it.

That being said, I never, ever, EVER saw a tandem student who didn't have a huge-ass grin on his or her face after they jumped. Before, I've seen faces all the color of the rainbow (from pink to green), tears, terror, wide-eyed shock, you name it; but every single one of them landed with a big smile and usually a whoop. It's entirely normal and expected to be nervous beforehand, and it's entirely OK to talk to your tandem master about this and let them calm your nerves.

I'm probably biased in that I love the sport, but I strongly feel everyone should try it once. There's absolutely nothing like it in the world, and you'll remember it positively for the rest of your life.
posted by wolftrouble at 4:37 PM on April 9, 2006

I took about eight jumps and it was a blast. I do participate in quite a few of what some would consider dangerous activities (climbing, surfing, mountainbiking, etc). IMO skydiving was the riskiest of these, not so much of death, but of injury. With all of the former activities I am able to tightly control my level of exposure, and choose the amount of risk acceptable. With skydiving, most of it seemed out of my hands, other than my choice of facilities and weather. Perhaps with experience I would have felt more comfortable. As it is, I'd consider it on a par with rather aggressive mountainbiking.

In eight trips I had no injuries, but I did have an unsettling experience when an updraft on the landing jerked me sideways at the last moment. I landed rather hard, as did everyone on my flight, and an instructor broke his ankle. I also observed a friend (whose jump I'd paid for) on one of these flights whose first chute failed to open properly. She was with an instructor who handled the deployment of the second chute, and was convinced that it was a prank we'd played on her.

If you are comfortable with the risk, then by all means do it. I recommend Accelerated Free Fall where you get to pull your own cord and control the chute yourself.
posted by Manjusri at 5:28 PM on April 9, 2006

I'll just add to the chorus and say God, Yes. I've jumped 13 times, and it's a lot of fun. It's ridiculously safe, if you pay attention.
posted by vernondalhart at 6:15 PM on April 9, 2006

Best answer: Two jumps, here. Both of them instructor-assisted AFF from 10000 feet. This involves freefalling at the centre of a three-person formation, with an instructor hanging on to hip and shoulder on each side; they let go when you pop your chute, then drop a bit lower before they pop theirs and guide you in.

My first jump went wrong. I was too fat for the jump suit, so it didn't flap in the breeze as much as jump suits are supposed to, which decreased my air resistance. Even in a full hard arch (the chest-forward, limbs-back, maximum stability position) I fell faster than anybody expected me to. This caused both the instructors to fold backwards like shuttlecock feathers, ending up in headfirst diving positions in my wind shadow.

One of them let go; the other stayed with me. Apparently he was trying to get me to pop my chute, but the training had been very clear on the signal for an early pop (instructor to show fist in front of student's face) and he wasn't doing that. I didn't realize at the time that for him to have shown me his fist he would have needed arms five feet long.

What he was doing was his best to hang on with some degree of stability, but since he was kind of flapping in the breeze, I experienced this as just a bunch of fairly violent shaking.

We'd been trained that shaking from the instructor meant "you're unstable, get back into your hard arch position" so I just kept doing that. Which meant that I couldn't see the altimeter attached to my chest, which meant I soon had absolutely no idea how high we were. I also couldn't see the instructor, but I could sure feel him shaking me so I knew he was still there, and I knew he was somewhere behind me. I didn't feel good about the idea of popping a spring-loaded pilot chute into my instructor, so although the freefall did seem to have been going for a very long time, I just kept waiting for the fist-in-front-of-face signal.

Eventually I felt him let go, and I immediately grabbed the ripcord handle and pulled it. My chute opened perfectly. Turns out he'd let go because he'd heard the spoing! of the altitude-triggered automatic opening device going off, so my chute was already deploying as I was pulling the cord.

So he dropped head-down to get below me, then opened his chute and I started following him in to land. Unfortunately, my by-then thoroughly-scrambled brain got confused about the meaning of the term "follow", so instead of just keeping on flying directly toward him, I aped all his turns. Which meant we just got further and further away from the intended landing zone.

Meanwhile, the first instructor (the guy who let go early) had figured out which paddock I was going to end up in, and landed in it. I saw the second instructor land in the same paddock. Very soon it was time for me to land as well; fortunately the turn-aping business meant I was heading into the wind as required.

Both instructors ended up too far away from me to guide me through the landing flare, so I screwed that up a bit. Fortunately I screwed it up by flaring too late, not too early, so instead of dropping like a rock I just ended up sliding across the tussocks at high speed on my arse. I stopped in a little dip in the paddock with my whole BODY in a huge grin, so overwhelmed that I forgot to stand up.

Next thing I know there are two skydiving instructors running toward me at high speed from different directions with faces of shock and terror. The guy who'd stayed with me reckoned that that was the lowest he'd ever popped his own chute. I had to buy them both much beer that night.

I came back eighteen months later when I'd lost a bit of weight, to do it again and get it right, and I did - the second jump was textbook perfect.

I never got to do my third jump, because my friend who was ahead of me in the queue ended up breaking both his legs and I went with him to hospital instead.

He was also a fat man, which I think may have had something to do with what happened when he popped his chute: the pilot chute whipped round and round the back corner of his main, folding it in and snagging the control line.

Instead of cutting away to his reserve, he flew in on the faulty main. To make it fly straight, he had to hold the control cords in a way that would have made him spiral-dive if the chute was working properly. Effectively, he was flying in under nearly full brakes - one back corner he was pulling down himself, and the other messed up by the tangled pilot chute.

So he came in fast and hard with a chute that wasn't working, and then he tried to flare - too early! - and the flare turned into a spiral dive and he drilled himself into the ground from about fifty feet up. Shattered his right tibia and fibula, almost completely detached his left foot, and separated his pelvis.

He's walking fine now, but will always have ankes that predict the weather.

Take-home lessons from my first jump:

1. Don't skydive if you're too fat for the jumpsuit. Lose some weight and come back later.

From his first jump:

2. Don't spend the training sessions analyzing the training methods and trying to figure out ways to make them more effective. Just do exactly what you're shown and told, over and over again, until you could do it in your sleep.

3. After you've popped your chute, make sure it's flying pretty much the way you've been trained it should fly; if it's not, CUT AWAY TO YOUR RESERVE.

From my second jump:

4. Oh YEAH! Go! Do it!

I'm fat again now, with a mortgage. Sigh.
posted by flabdablet at 8:30 PM on April 9, 2006

"The only injury that I personally know came from a guy who was getting dropped into a stadium, and ended up hitting some nasty winds, and the side of the stadium." - I Love Tacos

Tacos, that sounds like the Miller Park event, right? I was in center field filming our guys coming in. The sound of a stadium full of people groaning in unison is unforgettable.

Afroblano - one approach you could take is to find your nearest USPA dropzone, the go spend some time hanging out, watching, and interacting with people. Most jumpers will trip over themselves to make you feel welcome. Then sign up for a class. You can always change your mind and not jump, but being on the DZ, meeting the people, seeing the activity, learning how the equipment works, and getting the "feel" of the whole scene should answer all of your specific questions and soothe your general skeevies.

Student injuries, in my observation, are more rare than experienced jumpers pushing their envelopes a bit too far. (I had 650 jumps before I managed to screw up bad enough to break a leg.) But yeah, you could conceivably break an ankle or leg, so make sure that a couple months on crutches would not totally ruin your life.

Take the class. We can flood you with tips and anecdotes but it's nothing like being there. Have fun!
posted by Tubes at 11:46 PM on April 9, 2006

Yeah, it's safe. But what freaked me out is that when I went, they told us nobody had every died at that particular location. Some years later I found out they had lied (self link).
posted by exhilaration at 11:38 AM on April 10, 2006

I'm sure I've typed this on MeFi somewhere before. I screwed up my one jump, hurt my back. I forgot to turn around to face the wind. I think wolftrouble (thanks!) explains what happened to me. I was overwhelmed. But they didn't warn me what it felt like to put my body out into an 80mph wind.

Do the tandem. My mother-in-law did it, and loved it. She was around 55 at the time. Helps she's a small woman. I'd try this myself, but suspect I'm too heavy.
posted by Goofyy at 1:33 AM on April 11, 2006

No preview. Hell, yes. Best "stupid" thing I ever did.
posted by phrits at 4:07 PM on April 11, 2006

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