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Time to reflect once I complete paperwork for Glenn Coleman to submit to the CAA, as I have done many times before. This, however, does not make it any easier to understand or to accept.

Ron Brune a well respected professional demonstration jump organiser and jumper was fatally injured during a reserve landing on a display jump, Glenn Coleman, a well respected professional skydiver, working at Grahamstown was fatally injured during a swoop landing incident. Eric Stephenson (tonto), a well respected professional skydiver, was also fatally injured during a swoop landing incident almost 2 years ago.

Ron Brune C840

Glenn Coleman C1722

Eric ‘tonto’ Stephenson D515

After much reflection, I am reminded that rules do not make things safer. We have learnt this over a long time and we now understand that safety is a state of mind, an awareness level and something that each individual has to try and nurture within themselves. Safety is something that we should be learning from the senior skydivers among us.

You cannot beat safety into someone, it must come from within. Of course we have the MOPs as a guide, but the real value is in education. The essence of this article is to motivate you to stay informed and to read and ask questions and to motivate people to make decisions carefully.

The early days provided chief instructors that pretty much had all the answers but today, with so many varied aspects to the sport, it is difficult for one person to be expert in all (although there are one or two of them around).

Tonto, my good friend (RIP), had a couple of quotes which he used and every so often they spring to mind. The one that bears fruit all the time is “It takes ten years to get ten years’ experience” and even there, I find experienced people showing up on incident reports.

I thank the chief instructors and the instructors that instruct under them for their diligence and for all the incident reports that they complete and send to me as it is those reports that highlight trends and allow me to put corrective training in place to prevent more of the same if you know what I mean.

With any new developments there have to be pioneers and it is often their blood that will scribe the pages of the future MOPs. I believe in boundaries being pushed and in the constant seeking of new avenues and the merging of ideas and dreams to make people happy. The average age of the professional skydiver is 44 and so, some of those with experience are among that elite group that chooses to test new waters. Age brings wisdom but also, a general deterioration in the senses and reflexes – be careful when reliance is on instinct and reflex for what used to be, may not be as sharp as you remember it to be. On the other hand youth allows instinct to prevail but decisions still need to be made and it is the wisdom from the experienced that provides us with the arena within which we decide on what decisions are to be made. The last three fatality investigations have highlighted, in each case, a possible flaw in each of the individuals’ decision making process.

So, I see a trend and am unable to put a corrective measure in place as it is the very people that would implement the measure that are being hurt. They are not stupid or ignorant, young or old, they are in a place that requires spur of the moment improvisation and split second timing with the resultant experience being the learning block for the next step.

I salute on the one hand the determination to explore and on the other hand mourn the loss of good skydiving folk.

Think and plan before you leap. Most decisions are already made for students and they are simply taught to recognise various situations and implement a pre-decided course of action. As senior skydivers we need to adapt that thought process and customise it for ourselves and the various tasks that we set out to accomplish. If you are among those that are breaking new ground I urge you to take heed and to pre-make decisions for various eventualities, so that in their event you may be prepared.

Mark Bellingan
National Safety & Training Officer