National Geographic News
Photo of 63 women skydivers setting a new world record for the largest all-female formation while jumping head down.

A few days before a fatal skydiving accident in Eloy, Arizona, a group of 63 women set a record in the same place by plunging head first while holding hands.

Photograph by Niklas Daniel, AP

Brian Clark Howard

National Geographic News

Published December 4, 2013

On December 3, two skydivers were killed when they collided in mid-air over southern Arizona, after participating in a large-scale jump of many skydivers from multiple aircraft. The incident has raised questions about the safety of such large-scale jumps.

"In general, there is very little, if anything, in FAA regulations that covers jumpers once they leave the aircraft," says Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) spokesperson Ian Gregor. He said the FAA's Flight Standards District Office in Scottsdale, Arizona, is investigating the accident, with a focus on "whether the parachutes were properly packed by the appropriate person."

According to news reports, two of the skydivers smacked into each other at about 4 p.m. over the town of Eloy, a popular skydiving area about halfway between Phoenix and Tucson. Sgt. Brian Jerome of the Eloy police force told the media that the skydivers hit each other about 200 feet from the ground, causing their parachutes to collapse. One participant was said to be dead on the scene, while the other was said to have died later in a nearby hospital.

Nancy Koreen, director of sport promotion for the U.S. Parachuting Association, said that "probably close to 200" skydivers had jumped from multiple airplanes. "I don't know the exact number ... but they were doing larger jumps," she said.

National Geographic spoke with Koreen about the safety of her sport.

How common are multi-jumps, as the media seems to be calling it when more than one person jumps out of a plane?

That's not a term we use. I would say that 95 percent of skydives are people jumping out of the plane at the same time.

And when it comes to large numbers of people skydiving at once, are there particular challenges to that?

There are more parachutes trying to land at the same time, so you have to make sure to have more clear airspace, to not collide with other skydivers.

Skydivers generally use a landing pattern [as they approach the ground], similar to an aircraft coming into a landing, and the goal is to make the flight predictable so other skydivers in the air know what other people are doing. It's something skydivers learn as students, for safe flights and landings. Obviously, the more people there are at the same time, the more traffic there will be.

Is it well known that collisions can cause a parachute to deflate?

Yes.

If the chute does deflate, is there any way to reinflate it?

Often they will just reinflate themselves if you get clear of what you collided with. It takes a few seconds for air to fill the chute back up. It varies based on the nature of the collision and how the parachute is affected, how tangled it gets, how much it deflates, a lot of variables.

How much experience do you need before doing a large group jump?

Obviously, it requires quite a bit of experience to do larger group jumps. You have to have a lot of hours skydiving.

Follow Brian Clark Howard on Twitter and Google+.

11 comments
Komunitas Embun
Komunitas Embun

Sport parachuting is usual, but otherwise this parachuting to make a formation with a number of jumpers very much, certainly very risky or dangerous for unwanted accidents.

DC Carter
DC Carter

Three's a crowd, and Thirty is a mass suicide. 

Yolanda Lee
Yolanda Lee

That is so dangerous! But I still want to try it

connie K.
connie K.

Larry, what a stupid response. First of all, the National Geographic printed this whole article so very wrong & inaccurately. I expected a better article out of the National Geographic. The author evidently had no idea what he was talking about about & did not do his research...the information was lacking & incorrect...the people interviewed either were quoted incorrectly, or they also made wrong statements, & did a disservice to their members. Would you say football was pointless or a stunt-like..., or surfing, or car racing...sports that are for no particular reason other than accomplishment, competition, &/or enjoyment?. Skydivers compete for awards, accolades, medals, and records just like all the other more popular sports. We constantly are pushing our capabilities & striving for excellance in our sport...just like many other sports & hobbies. It is a sport that carries an amount of risk at all times & we are required to be vigilant. Unfortunately, only the fatalities seem to be newsworthy . The drop Zone that had this accident, has hundreds of thousands of skydives every year...out of all of those thousands & thousands, there might be a fatality & certainly some injuries. The odds are slim on a fatality occurring with all the precautions we use. It is a well regulated sport & we incorporate expensive gear to lower our risks. We must be licensed, too...requiring more knowledge, practice, & experience than you ever had driving a car...yet we get behind the wheel of a potentially lethal weapon more times than we could count.The most important safety we use use - the skydiver has 2 packed canopies...their main & their emergency chute. Ever see a race car driver, switch over to his emergency car before the crash?

Here is an excellent video that shows the beauty that few get to see & explains the "what for" so perfectly>> http://www.epictv.com/media/podcast/scratching-the-sky-epictv-short-film-festival-2013/233702

larry g.
larry g.

If people want to take part in pointless stunts, the important thing is that they only put themselves at risk and that the results of their choices don't impact the taxpayer.

connie K.
connie K.

"Plunging head first from a plane holding hands" has got to be the dumbest description I have ever heard. What a disservice you have done to our beloved sport/hobby of skydiving. Please do your homework on this & rewrite it. You sure missed your chance to educate a lot of people with this article. Boooo bad form!


connie K.
connie K.

As a skydiver,  Brian Howard, I think this article is quite confusing in so very many ways. Even the photo byline is. You should contact a well experienced skydiver for your reworded questions. The answers that you recorded in this article are not even specific or informative.

Adam King
Adam King

@larry g. Larry, the stunts are not pointless. It is a great experience to  free fall; pull a chute and gently ride back to the earth. I find it relaxing, personally. However, your concern regarding obligations on behalf of "taxpayers" is a bit misguided. People enter into these kinds of sports understanding the risks associated; and sign legal paperwork accordingly. Also, its not like jumps are hosted over heavily populated areas (I have a mental picture of a short, bald, bulbous Larry G. looking up for fear that Joe Skydiver might just drop out of the sky and strike him dead where he stands).

 Not to be combative towards your point, but there is no risk or ownership on behalf of "everyone else" for the select minority of people that engage in action sports. As Connie pointed out, you hear more about the deaths than you do the accomplishments and thus news like this can be misleading. Overall, skydiving has a better safety record than other high-risk activities such as hang-gliding, base-jumping and the like. This fact doesn't make it a "safe sport", but the culture of "safety-first" in skydiving is rich.  Further to this, when you consider the proportion of people engaging in this sport versus something basic such as driving a car, the amount of fatalities due to human error on behalf of everyday commuters far exceeds the per capita value registered against "action-junkies" (as most label us). Again, this does not mean that everyone should strap on a chute and jump out of a perfectly good airplane. I am just making a point that if you are always worried about the millions of ways you might die, then...you probably have a very...I would say....cautious way of looking at life (my polite way of saying boring). 

 Also, these sports are not cheap; so if you are suggesting that government aide may be used to help people whom have been injured doing "pointless stunts" which do not warrant support as they are selfish acts of self-gratification; don't worry, I am sure they have private insurance (as most people I have met while jumping are doctors, lawyers, and project managers like myself). I dont think Obama-care covers accidental splattering; if that is what you (or FOX news) has you worried about. By the way, Rupert Murdoch adopted a sky-diving donkey from Russia....so I a guessing he is an advocate. 

But all that aside, if you are truly concerned about high-risk activity that DOES impact taxpayers daily, go picket for stricter gun control because that is a real issue, and we all pay for it. Not people falling from the sky; despite what most American fundamentalists would have you believe. 

Share

Latest From Nat Geo

  • Photos: Relics of the Cold War

    Photos: Relics of the Cold War

    A photographer explores the traces of a standoff that divided Europe for four decades.

     

     

  • Delicate but Deadly Jellyfish

    Delicate but Deadly Jellyfish

    Some jellyfish are known to migrate hundreds of feet in pursuit of prey. See some of our favorite jellyfish pictures in honor of Jellyfish Day.

See more photo galleries »

Featured Article

  • The Push to Get More Women Into Science

    The Push to Get More Women Into Science

    The number of women in scientific research continues to lag behind the number of men, even though women make up half the nation's workforce. The question is, What difference does it make?

The Future of Food Series

  • Download: Free iPad App

    Download: Free iPad App

    We've made our magazine's best stories about the future of food available in a free iPad app.

  • Why Food Matters

    Why Food Matters

    How do we feed nine billion people by 2050, and how do we do so sustainably?

See more food news, photos, and videos »