“IS JUMPING A WINGSUIT MORE DANGEROUS THAN REGULAR SKYDIVING?” That is the question I’ve been asked at least a dozen times since doing my first wingsuit jump a few days ago. First of all, what’s regular skydiving? Second of all, in case you didn’t know it, skydiving in all its disciplines, is a dangerous sport. Every skydive, as with most worthwhile things in life, involve calculated risks. Before moving forward I think we should ask ourselves two questions.
1) Can we minimize the risk to an acceptable level?
2) Is it going to be rewarding (fun) enough that it’s worth taking the risk?
The safest type of skydiving we can do is static line with a round parachute. We will almost certainly have a parachute over our heads. There won’t be any canopy collisions. We can’t do low turns. There would be a higher percentage of broken legs and sprained ankles but that should be the worst of it and in skydiving terms those injuries are minor.
Yup, if we’re looking for the safest way to jump out of an airplane static line round is the way to go. As far as the fun goes, why bother.
Every additional element we add from there increases the risk factor.
-Freefall is higher risk than static line.
-Jumping squares is higher risk than rounds.
-Fast parachutes are higher risk than slow parachutes.
-A 2-way is more dangerous than a solo. A 10-way more than a 2-way. A 100-way more than a 10-way.
-Freeflying adds faster speeds and more difficult visuals.
-CRW is more dangerous than never flying within 200 feet of another canopy.
-Demos are higher risk than jumps on the dz.
-Jumping with a camera is higher risk than jumping without one.
-Jumping with a wingsuit is higher risk than jumping with an FS or FF suit.
In my limited knowledge and experience with wingsuits it looks to me that there are two additional safety issues to consider.
- Deploying your main pilot chute while wearing a wingsuit requires more focus, care and attention. I minimized this risk, as instructed to by my coach, by doing several practice pulls and deploying smoothly at a high altitude of 5000’.
2. Getting your parachute under control quickly after opening is more difficult in a wingsuit. I minimized this risk, as instructed to by my coach, by jumping a big, docile canopy which opens on heading and flies stable. Also by being absolutely certain I had plenty of separation from the other jumpers. This gave me adequate time to get my canopy under control even had there been a situation that we all had off heading openings and were headed right at each other.
I was just the right amount of nervous as I was preparing to exit on my first wingsuit jump. Not scared as such (well, maybe a little), just extra aware enough to make sure and do every detail exactly as my coach had showed me to. I’m sure I was a text book first flight student. It seemed as safe as any jump I’ve ever made, safer than many. As far as fun goes, when I kicked it into full speed I was flying across the ground so fast I could’ve sworn I was Superman. And who doesn’t think it would be fun to be Superman.
Life is full of calculated risks. Analyze the risk. Determine to what degree you can minimize it. Decide if it will be rewarding enough to make it worth it.
Then skydive smart.
If you’re interested in reading more about smart risk taking read “The Power of Risk” by friend and skydiver Jim McCormick.