Skydiving is one of those undertakings that seems extraordinarily ill-advised, if not outright crazy. The reason for this attitude is the seeming dangers most of us imagine coming with jumping out of a plane mid-flight. Still, the sport continues to gain in popularity across the world. So, the question begs – how many people die skydiving each year?
Statistics collected by the United States Parachute Association (USPA) for the year 2020 showed that skydiving fatalities occurred at the rate of 0.39 per 100,000 jumps. This was drawn from 11 deaths out of the approximately 2.8 million jumps reported in that year.
While the reluctance to try skydiving for the first time is understandable, learning a little about the risks involved and how they are avoided is often enough to erase any fears. Let’s dive into the world of parachuting, taking a look at just what the dangers are and how you can minimize any potential danger and set your mind at ease before you or your loved ones take their first leap.
Understanding Parachute Fatality Rates
It’s important to know from the very beginning that each death that takes place in the world of parachuting is received with real sorrow and heartbreak. The skydiving community constantly learns from every incident to ensure mistakes are not repeated, and safety standards continually improve.
Their efforts translate to better technology, improved equipment, and enhanced skydiver training mechanisms. Still, the risk of death or injury has not yet been eliminated. Let’s try and put this into better context by taking skydiving in comparison to an activity such as driving an ordinary motor vehicle.
It might seem counterintuitive, but every time we step into a car and get onto the road, we accept a higher risk of death or injury than we do when we jump out of a moving plane. The numbers tell the whole story quite clearly.
Most American adults drive or travel in vehicles almost daily. The ear 2012 saw approximately 340,000 people losing their lives due to car accidents, meaning that you had a 1 in 6000 chance of losing your life on the road if you travel more than 10000 miles in that year, and things are not much better today. The point here is that we have grown to accept much higher risks when it comes to driving than we are seemingly comfortable with when it comes to skydiving. Interesting, isn’t it?
There are a couple of compelling reasons explaining this apparent inconsistency in the way we’ve grown to look at skydiving safety, as detailed below:
· Sensationalist Reporting
A skydiving fatality is a rare occurrence, which makes it very big news whenever one takes place. If you were to imagine a world where every fatal road accident made it onto the news, you would probably find the thought of stepping into a car intolerable. The media will always make a big deal out of any parachuting incident simply because they are so rare and are thus of significantly higher interest. That’s contributed greatly to the mentality of so many of the general population towards the sport.
In conjunction with news media reporting, the general entertainment of the Hollywood variety has also played a significant time in depicting skydiving as an extreme, highly dangerous pursuit. The reality of skydiving is much more conscientious and safety-oriented than we’ve been led to believe by the high-flying action movie stars that face the big screens. Fiction has, unfortunately, been taken for fact in many people’s minds.
· Familiarity Bias
We are also blinded to the reality of the dangers such activities as driving hold for us by the sheer familiarity they hold for us. If you go out in your car every day without any mishap, it’s easy to imagine that driving is a safe activity, even though accidents are happening everywhere. Personal experience blocks out the statistical reality of the situation.
Skydiving Variations and Safety Levels
There are different types to choose from when it comes to parachuting, and they each have their advantages, disadvantages, and risk levels. Since fatalities are so low for parachuting in general, the metric used to determine their relative safety is the prevalence of injuries. Injuries typically involve sprained or twisted ankles, fractures, or breakages to the limbs, as well as any superficial alterations or bruises.
Let’s take a look, starting with what’s considered the safest skydiving type to the one considered the riskiest:
· Tandem Jumping
This is great for beginners to get themselves familiarized with what skydiving involves. The novice will not be leaping on their own but will be jumping off while strapped to an instructor. The experienced instructor will be in charge of operating the parachute mechanisms, steering, and dealing with any emergencies that may arise, all while showing the learner what they’re supposed to do for a successful jump.
After freefalling for several thousand feet, the trainer will then activate the parachute. The type of parachute used here is typically the modern, square, extra-large type with a dual control capability so that the learner can be taught how steering a parachute is done practically.
It is great for beginners and has an excellent safety record, but more training will be required before the learner can safely carry out a solo jump. This is the option for you if you’re looking to sign up for a single recreational jump, just to get a feel of what it’s like.
· Static Line Jumping – Square Canopy
Here, the learner jumps independently, but the parachute they wear will automatically open seconds after leaving the plane. This is the static line action referred to in the name, which takes away the burden of working the parachute mechanism from the jumper. Of course, the novice will still be faced with handling any emergencies and steering the parachute to the designated landing zone.
For these reasons, this type of jump calls for a relatively substantial amount of pre-jump and tandem jump training beforehand. Personal discipline and self-confidence will also be called for. This jump is usually the next step of those who aim to make skydiving a hobby or regular exercise.
While the square canopy chute used here can give you a very soft landing when handled properly, mishandling them can see you hit the ground rather hard, as is evidenced by the significantly higher injury rates attributed to it.
· Accelerated Free-Fall (AFF)
Here, a learner will make their jump from the plane with the normal square parachute but there, will be no static line to deploy it automatically. The responsibility will lie on the learner’s shoulders, and they are supposed to do this after a free-fall lasting several thousand feet.
There will be two experienced instructors accompanying the novice on this jump, and their role will be to continue the training process during the freefall part of the jump. This is what brings about the ‘accelerated’ aspect of this jump type.
NOTE: When selecting the type of dive you want to go on, it will be important that you take a good and honest look at your health and fitness levels and learn what you can about what’s involved. Listen to all advice given to you by those with experience and instructors. It’s ok to start slow initially because you’ll have that much more to look forward to.
Other Variables to Consider
It has to be said that other factors will influence your likelihood of being injured while participating in this sport, regardless of shat skydiving method you select. These factors include age, physical fitness level, weight, and gender. Injury rates tend to be higher on average for women in comparison with men. The rates also increase with increasing age, weight, and decreasing physical fitness.
The settings and parameters surrounding the jump also play a role in determining how safe the exercise will be. These include; the quality of the pre-jump training undertaken, the airfield surroundings and conditions, airplane and equipment conditions, and the instructors’ qualifications, certifications, and experience. It might be hard for you to determine or assess these variables on your own. Still, there are plenty of online resources and reviews that can help you identify a safe and reliable skydiving facility.
Most skydiving injuries and fatalities come about when people try to push the boundaries of their own or their equipment’s capabilities. It is for this reason that learners or beginners will rarely be found among the lists of skydiving deaths. Stunt-jumpers, competitive divers, showpeople, and experienced divers seeking bigger thrills make up the unfortunate majority of parachuting casualties, with novices generally getting away with scrapes and sprains for the most part whenever the rare mishap takes place.
As many people realize, when it’s already too late, the biggest risk of skydiving is getting hooked. Skydiving is a highly effective method of building up your courage and discipline, eliminating anxiety and stress, and promoting a healthier engagement with the outside world that translates to increased social, emotional, and professional wellbeing. Take the time to look into it and give it a try whenever the chance presents itself. It just might change your life.