How Often Do Skydiving Parachutes Fail?

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The dream of flight. It captivates millions: just look at the statistics, in 2018, over 3.3 million skydivers were completed. Flight in skydiving isn’t just about the freefall. Your skydive is broken into several parts: the expectant plane ride to altitude, the adrenaline-filled freefall, and, whoosh the fabric unfurls, the parachute flight! Wondering about skydiving safety and what happens if the parachute fails? 

According to statistics gathered by the United States Parachute Association, improvements in equipment, training programs, and improved dropzone management have resulted in improved skydiving safety and the lowest number of fatal accidents in the sport to date. Tandem skydiving has an even better safety record. In fact, according to the National Safety Council, you are more likely to die from being struck by lightning or stung by a bee.

What is done if a parachute fails?How Often do Parachutes Fail?

You might be thinking, “that’s all well and good. But what about the parachute failing?” In skydiving, the failure of the main parachute to operate properly or the failure of the parachute to open is called a parachute malfunction. This case is literally one-in-a-thousand. But what would cause this parachute malfunction to happen?

A successful parachute deployment is the result of the correct packing of the parachute and the body position of the skydiver when they deploy that parachute. Even with both of these elements dialed in, it is still possible for a parachute to fail. This is why skydivers jump with two parachutes: a main, and the backup, which we call the reserve parachute. 

What’s the difference?

The design of the main parachute is geared toward performance. This parachute is a lot like a sports car, with both functionality and performance in mind. The main parachute aims to give you a zippy, fun ride to the ground. 

The design of the reserve parachute is almost entirely focused on functional reliability. This parachute is something more akin to a top safety-rated sedan. If the main parachute fails or has any sort of malfunction, the reserve can be deployed in three ways: either a skydiver will initiate their Emergency Procedures, the reserve will be deployed by a Reserve Static Line, or the reserve will be deployed by the Automatic Activation Device.

What is done if a parachute fails?

Emergency Procedures are an exact series of actions skydivers will employ to solve problems that may arise during a skydive and the subsequent deployment of their main canopy. The Reserve Static Line is a specialized piece of equipment that is attached to the main parachute’s risers to deploy the reserve parachute if the main parachute is released in the event of an emergency.

The Automatic Activation Device (or AAD) is an incredible piece of gadgetry. These uber-precise computers are capable of calculating the rate of descent and altitude and are set to activate the reserve parachute at a pre-programmed altitude. 

What makes the reserve parachute so special?

reserve parachute

The reserve parachute can ONLY be packed by a specialized parachute rigger who has received certification and been appropriately rated by the Federal Aviation Administration. These parachute riggers have received in-depth specialty training in order to receive their certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). 

Once a rigger has successfully met the required parameters of the FAA, it will be issued a rigger-specific seal symbol consisting of three numbers, three letters, or both. Each of these triads is directly tied to a parachute rigger. Each reserve parachute that is packed by the parachute rigger will be marked using this seal symbol.

The reserve parachutes that these riggers pack are inspected and repacked every 180 days, without fail. Additionally, in order to be used for skydiving, the gear has received approval in the form of a Technical Standard Order from the Federal Aviation Administration. 

Only a stone-cold pro will touch the reserve parachute, and you can rest assured the parachute you jump at Skydive Monroe has our rigger’s seal of approval!