A few weeks ago I took a day off work just to go skydiving. (Yes, I know that means that my addiction is completely in “full-on” mode. Especially if you had seen what a mess my house was and how much laundry and other stuff I needed to be doing instead. But I digress. Again.)
After a lengthy conversation with the pilot about how he calculates the “spot” (the place where he turns on the green light to indicate it is the right time and place to exit the plane) and how the jumper should confirm the spot, I went up on the first load of the day. The jumpers on this load are called “wind dummies” because everyone likes to watch how they land and how well the forecasted/report winds match the real experience.
As we took off and climbed to altitude, I had a conversation with Sandy about landing off (quick reminder: landing off or and off landing means you do not land in the designated landing area, but off the drop zone property) and what to do and how to get back and all this stuff and I was thinking: “Uh oh. Is this foreshadowing?” (I really did think that.) And since you’ve already been spoiled by the title: guess what happened?
Sandy and I were jumpers 3 and 4 out the door and we did some tracking coaching (my track is still a mess). I deployed at 4,500 feet and faced into the wind, toward the landing zone and looked between my feet. I was about two tenths of a mile behind the hangar and over a half a mile downwind from where I should start the downwind leg on my landing pattern.
So I held my heading and did no turns to burn altitude and began calculating. My internal calculating sounded a little like this: “Dang! I’m not moving. Be patient, Mar. Hmmm. I have lots of time. Once I get a little lower, the winds will die down and I will start to move . I still have 3,500 feet to go. Just chill….. Crap! Crap! Be calm. Stay on heading. Umm. Okay, 3,000 feet. Lots of time…. F**k. Still in THE EXACT SAME SPOT. My friggin’ canopy is NOT penetrating at all. Steady girl. Don’t be an ass. Uhhh. 2,000 Feet. (kicking legs in futility). Why am I kicking my legs? Hans (DZO) is probably watching me. He is totally going to make fun of me. He will tease me if I land off. Hans will make EVEN MORE fun of me if I land in the woods behind the hangar tho’. Or be pissed. Stop thinking about Hans. Be calm. Any minute now I will start to move…. WHY WON’T I MOVE? Every one else is making it in! Oh look! Someone else is landing off in the field behind the woods. Yes! I’m NOT the only one! And I’m gonna make it! I’ll just do a single leg and make it in. Right? Right! RIGHT? ……. DAAAAANG! 1,000 feet. Am I moving at all???!!! (Checking) Nope. Crap! Decision time: LAAAAANDING OOOFFFFFFFF!”
So I wheeled around downwind, soared over the half mile of woods in five seconds and almost overshot the field I had picked as my alternate target. I got situated, again headed down wind and slowly sank into a field of briars/pickers, about 50 feet from the other person who had landed off. I was very glad I had my jumpsuit on because it was slide in landing. And glad I had company.
Within five minutes Sam had arrived in the bus to pick us up. When I got back to the hangar, Hans did indeed give me some shit (he said if I had opened on heading and tracked toward the LZ in freefall I probably would have been okay), but that I made the right call given where I was and my skill set. He did know EXACTLY what I had done (including almost overshooting my second landing site. He has a freakish talent at knowing exactly what people are doing in the air, miles away from the DZ. ) and did not make me feel like an ass at all. Which was nice.
Then I packed the main and jumped my own pack job on the next available load. I figured I’d already had my drama for the day, so I might as well face the next scary thing right off. It opened smooth as can be and soft as downy chick, so yaaay me. And I got to have a story which involves me repetitively telling people I couldn’t “penetrate”, which is always fun.
So, I landed off. Not sure exactly what I learned except: safety before saving face is good, it’s nice to have company when you land off, the spot is always your own responsibility, not just the pilots, newbies maybe shouldn’t volunteer to be wind dummies, and track toward the drop zone if possible.
More boring than you thought, right?