My altimeter read 5500 ft and I am coming to the end of a very fun skydive. It was my first at Skydive Chicago (SDC) and I was joined by this woman Victoria. We had done a linked exit, got stable and quickly realized we fall at very different speeds. Our plan was to break off at 5500 and turn to track away.
I do my 180, I get into my tracking position, 1,2,3,4,5 then stabilize, wave off and pull baby pull. My rig is new and I got a free fly tab which I had trouble getting out my two previous jumps. I was stoked as this time it was a flick and a throw and the pilot chute is out. I felt great -- until I looked up.
The canopy was in its snivel but the opening felt weird. I had flown this canopy 1x before and it was a strikingly different opening. The slider was stuck up by the canopy and the canopy wasn't inflating. 5s go by so I now knew the situation wasn't right. I was now beginning to spin quickly out of control. I started to pump my risers to fix the situation as I am now below 3k feet. I pumped em for 2 more seconds and the slider and canopy began to fix itself. Phew!!!
The slider slid down and the canopy was starting to finally take its proper shape -- all with being above 2k feet and around the hard deck. "Shit is great" I thought! "Malfunction I fucking owned you" I thought. All reasonable thoughts right? Yeah this is where my story then takes a turn
And by turn I mean a high-speed spin! The brake apparently came unstowed during the slider situation and I am now very rapidly losing altitude and spinning toward the ground. "Fuck" I now thought. I try to grab the risers and stop the spin by countering the turn. In my mind, I began a count as I attempted to get my four s situation in check. 1-1000, 2-1000, 3-1000. The canopy was square (rectangle whatever), the slider is down, it is in no way stable and there is no way I can steer this thing to landing. I was officially in a death spiral and now I am below 2k feet.
I look down
I got this
I know what I have to do
I put my hand on my cut away handle and the following words exit my mouth "3,2,1 cya!" As I detach the cut away handle from its Velcro home I throw it like I mean it as I was instructed to in IAF school. The decision was very simple. I was aware that due to my 4s check failing that I could not land this canopy in this shape. I could work on the situation further but I am rapidly approaching decision altitude. I needed to trust that the emergency procedures are now the safest thing I can possibly do.
The cut away releases my parachute I begin to fall again but it is way more comfortable feeling than a death spiral. The cutaway triggers my RSL to work and before I can rip the reserve handle out BOOM my reserve is out. I quickly spot my altitude and I am at 1.2k feet. I had my hand on the risers so I can pilot it. I look down and spot where I am vs the DZ and point myself in the direction of a couple of landing options. I put my hand on my toggles and begin to make a plan.
I was over a possible option for landing and could see the swoop pond in range. I knew I could make the pond or the 1000 jump landing area but was unclear if I could make the main landing area. I was facing into the wind but moving forward very nicely. I continued forward and looked where the other parachutists were. I had a clear path to at least to 1000 jump are. I rid the edge of the runway (though staying over the field) as I knew I was crossing where the swoopers went. I ran a straight pattern but I was opposite where everyone else would be. I kept looking around me to ensure I wouldn't run into anyone as I was the issue not them. The air continued to stay clear so I locked my eyes on where I wanted to land and put my hands up at around 250 ft. At two body lengths I start my flare and 3,2,1 I am on the ground safe and sound.
"Yewwwwww" I screamed as I started to gather my gear back up. A couple of jumpers ran up to me to check on me and see what happened. The staff of SDC zoomed up on their ATV and asked me to get in so I can bring my gear to their pro shop and check in at manifest. Jumpers left and right came up to me to talk and see what the deal was. They made some observations about how I could have potentially fixed the 2nd situation but applauded my decision making and congratulated me on a successful chop job. We went out about 30m later to find the main and luckily found it in a cow meadow in under an hour. Victoria the woman who exited with me was my "find the main ninja".
It was two firsts for the day so I owed two cases of beer. First dive at SDC and first chop job. A beer was in my future. I also now became aware that I need to buy my master rigger who packed my reserve a bottle of booze.
All in all, it was a scary situation but no big deal. I stayed calm, executed the procedures I have trained myself in how to do and I landed safely. I likely made the situation worse by not immediately grabbing my toggles before the brake issue but it is what it is. I feel more confident now as a jumper as my emergency procedures kept me safe. What I learned was that the hundreds of thousands of people before me were there to help me and ensure that my equipment and my training can turn a "Spinny Spinny Ruh Roh" emergency situation into a soft and safe landing. Blue skies y'all and thanks to everyone that came before me for keeping me safe.