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How to Survive if Your Parachute Fails

Skydiving in the mountains

Picture this. You’re free falling out of the sky, the ground getting nearer with every moment that passes. You go to deploy the parachute and nothing happens. You’re plummeting towards the ground at lightning speed. What do you do next?

One of the biggest things that stops people from going skydiving is the thought that their parachute will malfunction on the way down, and while it’s unlikely, it is not impossible. If your parachute fails, your chances aren’t great, but there are some things that you can do in your remaining seconds to try and escape death. Find out what they are here.

Use Your Reserve Parachute

Don’t panic yet, if your main parachute fails you, then you can always fall to your reserve parachute instead. To do this, you will need to get into the breakaway position and get rid of chute one before trying your reserve.

Getting Into the Breakaway Position

The first thing you should do if your main parachute has started to malfunction or has somehow gotten tangled, is to focus on breaking away from it before you deploy your reserve. Otherwise, the reserve parachute can become tangled, and you don’t want this to happen. 

The breakaway position involves spreading your legs to lower your velocity and keeping your head up while arching your back. If you end up in the wrong position, then you could get tangled up in your main parachute. Something else to keep in mind is that you need to break away at at least 1600 feet if you want to have enough time to fully deploy the reserve parachute.

Find and Pull the Breakaway Handle

Step one is to locate the breakaway handle, which will typically be found on the right side, but you should always know this before you jump. The breakaway handle will be a cloth loop that can be found on the strap of your parachute pack. You should grab onto the handle with both of your hands and get ready to pull it. 

Next, you will need to pull the breakaway handle with your reserve handle in sight. Once the handle is pulled, just throw it away. Now, your main parachute will be released, which means that your reserve won’t get all tangled up. Don’t forget, you do not need to pull the breakaway handle if your main parachute hasn’t already deployed. Instead, you can just pull your reserve ripcord.

Pull the Reserve Ripcord and Prepare for Landing

Now that you’re in the clear, you can go ahead and pull the reserve ripcord with both of your hands. This can typically be found on the left hand side, on the opposite side to the breakaway handle. Your reserve parachute will be deployed, and hopefully, your life will be saved.

But it isn’t over yet. You still need to look to make sure that your reserve has successfully been deployed, and start to prepare for your landing. You won’t have as much time, so every second counts. You can use your steering cables to maneuver your landing, and all that’s left to do is to assume the landing position. Hopefully, you have time to find a suitable place to land.

How to Survive if Your Parachute Fails

If you are super unlucky and your parachute fails entirely, including the reserve, then you need to stay calm. If you panic, your chances of survival are slim to none. If you stay calm, there are still some things that you can try to save your life. You will need to plan out how and where you are going to fall, and you won’t have much time to do it.

Get Into Position to Slow Your Speed

If you are freefalling through the air without a parachute to save you, then you will need to spread your body out into the shape of an X. Try to make yourself as flat as possible in order to reduce your speed. The front of your body will be facing the ground. Raise your arms above your head to try and achieve as much drag as possible, and arch your head and back upward.

Choose a Safe Landing Location

Try and aim for marshy or snowy areas to cushion the blow, or head for wooded areas as the tree branches can slow your descent before you collide with the hard ground. Of course, try to avoid hard objects like concrete or buildings. 

You can try to move left or right by lowering your elbow and leaning in the direction that you want to turn in. You can straighten your legs and put your arms down to your sides to move forward, or bend your knees and push your arms forward to move backwards.

Positioning Yourself for Landing

It is essential to get into the correct skydiver’s landing position. To do this, you will need to land on your feet. Put your feet together and ensure that your heels are up and pointed towards the ground. You should flex your knees and hips and prepare for impact.

The hope is that landing in this position will mean that your legs will absorb some of the impact from the fall. While you will likely experience injuries to your legs and/or hips, it can prevent damage to your vital organs.

If you are able to roll on impact, then go for it. Try to protect your head and roll forward into a somersault if you can to absorb some of the impact.

How to Survive if Your Parachute Fails Above Water

If you are free falling and need to land in a body of water, you will need to land feet first with your feet together. You should put your hands flat to your sides. You can protect the top and back of your head if you use your hands and arms to cover your neck. You should bend your neck forward and tuck your chin in to protect the back of your head.

Frequently Asked Questions

Have you ever wondered how often parachutes fail, or what your chances are of dying from skydiving? Find the answers to all of your burning questions below.

How Often Do Parachutes Fail?

1 in every 1000 parachutes will fail on some level, meaning that they don’t operate at 100% efficiency. Unfortunately, even the most well looked after parachutes can fail. Although, this is why skydivers will have a reserve parachute to use in case of an emergency.

Is It Possible for Both Parachutes to Fail?

Yes, it is possible for both of the parachutes to fail. A reserve parachute is carried for use in the event that the main parachute fails, but if you are really unlucky, the reserve may also fail. This is unlikely, but still possible.

How Many Parachutes Fail Each Year?

Not many. Only 1 in every 1000 parachutes will experience a malfunction that requires the use of the reserve parachute to save the day.

What Happens if a Parachute Fails?

If a parachute fails, then there is often an automatic activation device that will work to automatically deploy the reserve parachute if it has not already been deployed by the time the person reaches a certain altitude.

What Are the Chances of Dying While Skydiving?

You have a 0.00045% chance of dying while skydiving. Out of 3.3 million skydives that took place, there were only 15 fatalities, so your chances of dying are extremely low. Your chances of dying on a tandem skydive are even less than this.