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How to save your life
By Betty Pfeiffer
The purpose of this article is to provide a basic step by step guide to emergency parachute use. For more details please refer to Hang Gliding Magazine Articles: Basic Parachute for Pilots of All Stages (June 95), Misconceptions About Parachutes (July 93), The Ballistic Controversy (1994), and Parachute Quiz (August 93)
Parachutes save lives.
There is no question that your emergency reserve parachute can save your life. There are many questions over when, where, and how to use it.
To deploy or not to deploy
In most hang gliding emergency situations, this decision is easy. If you are out of control throw your chute.
In some cases, you may have regained or maintained some control of the situation. In these cases you need to consider the following factors:
Altitude & Controllability:
Are you high enough to test out how much control you have over the glider, but still throw your parachute if the situation worsens? If the answer is "no", throw!
Can you control your glider in unconventional ways yet stay ready to deploy your parachute? If the answer is "no", throw!
Are you in smooth air where it is likely that you can glide down without encountering turbulence? If so, you may have the option of landing the glider.
Are you in strong conditions where turbulence can adversely affect the delicate equilibrium you have achieved? If so, throw!
Are you close to an acceptable place to land?
Can you fly your broken glider over the valley to throw your parachute, instead of throwing it close to the mountain? This will give more altitude in which the parachute can open.
Are there hazards such as power lines, lakes, jagged rocks, buildings, and unforgiving terrain in your approximate impact zone should you decide to deploy? If so, your best bet maybe to try to delay your throw until you have cleared the hazard.
Once you decide to deploy . LOOK OUT, LOOK OUT, LOOK OUT, LOOK OUT!!!
Look for your handle. This will help you grab the appropriate handle and give you something on which to focus in a potentially violent situation.
Get the parachute out. Some container systems require you pull the handle a certain direction to release the curved pins (safety locks) before you can extract your parachute. Some Velcro configurations require you peel the opening flap downward to extract the parachute.
Look for clear air and throw the parachute out towards it. Throw hard. If it is possible, throw the parachute towards the sky or upwards and out. If you are in a spin throw the parachute into the spin (forward). That will increase the rotation distance of the spin before it starts wrapping up your bridle.
If you can feel the bridle still attached to your harness, you have a problem. Yank the bridle several times very hard. Hopefully the parachute will inflate and the bridle will be yanked out of your hand. If it does not inflate, pull the parachute back to you using a hand over hand grip. Throw the parachute again.
Quickly look to make sure your parachute is out.
Prepare for impact. If you have a control bar, climb into it keeping your weight distributed towards both corners of the base tube. If you do not have a control bar, get into a foot-down position with your feet together and knees slightly bent. Keep your arms and head tucked in. Try to use your legs as shock absorbers by allowing them to give (bend) as you impact. Allow your body to be rolled the direction of the impact. Be sure to have your hook knife readily available.
After you impact, disconnect from the glider immediately. Do whatever you need to do to get away from the glider and parachute even if it means cutting your harness off. Be sure to radio your flying buddies your condition and your position.
If you are a witness to a deployment and there is any chance that an air rescue team may be needed, get out of the air space. Helicopters will not come in if they know there are hang gliders flying in the area. The time it takes for them to wait for you to clear the air could mean valuable life saving seconds.
Interesting things we have learned along the way the hard way from real life experiences
If you have a hold of the control bar when you decide to throw your parachute, you will probably not want to let go of the control bar.
If you cannot get your parachute out of your harness it may require that you use both hands to deploy.
If the control bar has been ripped out of your hands, you may as well use both hands to throw your parachute.
You can throw better if you grab the whole parachute deployment bag, not just the deployment bag handle, with both hands and throw.
Be sure you can reach your deployment handle with both your right and left hand.
Sometimes you can stop the spinning of your glider under an open parachute by shifting your weight. This is true even when your parachute has a paraswivel.
If you are pulling on a parachute line or bridle, never wrap the line around your hand. The parachute can inflate with tremendous force.
If your paraswivel gets wet, the bolt and/or bearing assembly inside can rust.
Parachute deployments can be very violent.
If you try to use your parachute to climb out of a tree, be sure to add knots in the bridle at regular intervals so you do not slide down the bridle and burn your hands.
If your right hand is not available, you can deploy with your left!
If you get something caught on your parachute handle, you can experience an accidental deployment!
If you do not have your curved pins (safety locks) properly secured, you can have an accidental deployment. (Safety locks are located on the deployment bag handle.)
Each time you change your harness or parachute, you need to re-learn how to extract your parachute from the container. Your new system might require a different kind of pull than your previous system did.
Indecision is dangerous.
Bridles that are sandwiched between the harness mains do not always release properly during a deployment.
You can tumble your glider:
Diving into dust devils,
Flying between strong air masses, whip stalling,
Flying in rotors,
Practicing flairs ( landing type flairs) at altitude,
Doing extreme stunts such as bungee dropping,
Getting vortexes from other aircraft,
Stalling the whole wing during a spin attempt and failing to recognize it.
Stalling the glider pass vertical while attempting a loop in thermal conditions.
It is more difficult to climb into your control bar if you do not unzip your harness first.
Aluminum Carabiners can break when not properly cared for.
Bad situations can get worse fast. If you are going to throw your chute do not waste time.
If you are going to throw your chute you may want to avoid throwing it down between your legs.
It is better to have your hook knife in hand before you get dragged.
If you cannot get head up in your harness without the aid of a control bar, under canopy you will probably impact face first.
Hard impacts hurt!
If your parachute bridle is routed inside your harness or connected inside your harness, in theory, you will impact after your glider. While under canopy you will be part of the bridle system.
Full-face helmets save lives.
If you can only get to your parachute handle with one hand, you only have half the chance of a successful deployment. Be sure you can reach your handle with both hands.
Practicing deployment in your mind helps you react quickly and appropriately in the real situation.
If you hear of an accident and imagine yourself in that pilots situation, you can come up with creative options that may help you in real flight.
Practicing deployments in a simulator before each repack will speed up the time it takes you to get under canopy.
Practicing looking and reaching for your parachute handle with both your right hand and then your left hand each flight will speed up deployment time in the real situation.
Learn everything you can about your harness/parachute/hang strap safety system. Safety equipment is improving and it is your responsibility to keep up with new developments!
Special thanks to Ken Brown, John Heiney, Russ Brown and especially to all those pilots who have experienced real life deployments and allowed me to learn from them.