How did you start skydiving?
I've always wanted to do it, almost 2 years ago I went on my first tandem on a last second booking with a guy I'd only met 2 days prior. We were chatting in his office and joking about jumping and I just booked it. I was hooked after that. I did 2 more tandems before I knuckled down, bit the bullet and went to Spaceland Dallas and paid for my A in a week. That was 3 weeks ago.
When you first started skydiving did you ever truly think that an accident could happen to you?
I had been over and over the numbers, really didn't think it was something I'd be dealing with personally. At least I thought that it would be a LOT of jumps down the road. It was only my 5th solo, my pilot chute decided that it wanted to bow tie my canopy and I had my first cutaway. At Spaceland, every day that you're in their STP program, the first thing you do are emergency procedures at "Malfunction Junction". I absolutely believe that this set in muscle memory. As soon as I looked up and realized that my main didn't look correct, I chopped it.
Tell me a bit about the day that you had your accident?
July 4th, 2017 I was traveling for work and had the day off. I decided that, since I had just received my A license, I was going to find the nearest drop zone and make a day of it. Skydive Cross Keys was just across the river from where I was working. I had already made 3 jumps and the previous 2 on that same rig. I made sure to do my personal thorough gear check. I remember checking my rig several times before each jump. I received pin checks on the way up each time, except this 4th jump. I was planning a high pull (8k) for canopy work, meaning I was going to be one of the last off the plane and I guess I didn't think to get a pin check on this ride up considering that no one was behind me.
Dustin and two canopy's getting along just fine
What led up to the tree landing?
I remember watching everyone exit in front of me except for 2 guys that were planning a higher pull than I was. I remember giving the group in front of me a solid 8 second count before I exited. I remember my exit went exactly how I wanted it to. My free fall was a short 20 seconds, I flipped over on my back to get a visual on the canopy above me to make sure everything was clear. I rolled back to my belly for my pull, got big, slow, and stable and pitched. The moment after I pitched, the moment you feel the pilot pull the bag out of the container, I knew something was wrong. By the time I was stood up enough get eyes on my canopy there were 2 up there, fully inflated, both looked perfect, except that there were 2 of them. THIS was my Pussfoot moment. The initial fear of seeing the dreaded biplane and the "what do I do" thought didn't last long. The only thing I could think was "disconnect the RSL, steer the dominant canopy with small inputs keeping them in a biplane if possible". Mind you, I Pulled at 8k, the first time I looked at my altimeter under canopy I was at 7500 ft and facing away from the DZ. I knew I had time and I started "learning" how to fly this set up. I'm here to tell you, you can't. It Flys you. The only thing I could do was make sure these canopies stayed together, every time I tried to turn, they would start to side by side and I was forced to abort the turn. What I found that did work, was steering the main into the reserve while conducting a full-on harness turn. Even doing this, it took way too long to make any kind of turn and by this time I'm at about 4000 ft and headed down wind across the DZ. At this point one of the 2 guys that pulled higher than me flew up beside me and yelled to me to stay calm. I managed to get these 2 canopies to make a 180Â° turn but realized that the wind had pushed me pretty far. At this point I honestly thought that if I got my body as small as I could I'd gain enough forward momentum to clear the tree line. I ended up landing 75' up in a tree about 40' shy of the landing area.
Thumbs up all
After you landed how did you feel?
Well after I landed, I had a short though of "how long before someone is here to get me down?" that thought lasted about 2 min before someone was yelling for me. I then had about 2 hours to go over and over and over again what exactly had happened and just process it all. I heard a helicopter overhead and was told to smile for the news. Where I ended up in the tree I was very stable and quite comfortable.
Once you were two legs on the ground where you relived?
I think less relieved than curious to find out what happened.
Did you go right back up?
I wanted to, and I had another jump ticket, but I didn't have a rig at that point and wouldn't have been able to get another before the last load of the day.
Looking back at your situation what would you have done different?
To be honest, I think that what I did, and how I did it was the proper way for having never done it before. However, after being in the situation and talking to others that have a lot more experience than I do. In the same situation, I would get to a point that I knew my main would land on the DZ, or at least real close, induce a side by side situation, and chop the main. But like I said, what and how it happened this time was "by the book".
What's next for Dustin? (skydiving)
Next, the plan is to continue working on my skills and becoming a better skydiver. These things have definitely not deterred me away from the sport.
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