Credit: Horia Varlan
Parachuting or skydiving is an extreme sport where thrill-seeking jumpers fall or jump from an aircraft at high altitude either in tandem with an instructor or as a solo jumper. During the descent a parachute is deployed to slow the speed of the fall, and experienced jumpers can perform aerial manoeuvres to show off their proficiency, before landing as gently as possible on the ground. Parachuting took off as a sport after World War II, when there was a glut of surplus parachute equipment.
Safety of Parachuting
This extremely exhilarating adrenalin rush, which usually requires that jumpers exit the aircraft at between 12,000 to 14,000 feet, naturally comes with dangers. The sport, however is relatively safe. The United States Parachuting Association reports that of the more than three million jumps that took place in 2010, the fatalities only numbered 21, and the number of accidents is decreasing each year. British Parachute Association statistics show different rates of injury for males and females. This is due to body shape and weight distribution. The minimum weight for a jumper is six stone, while the maximum weight is usually 15 stone, although this does vary from centre to centre. It is not recommended that asthmatics participate in parachuting since jumps take place at altitudes where partial pressure of oxygen is significantly reduced.
To participate in parachuting, a jumper must be aged at least 16. Anyone under the age of 18 must have written parental or guardian permission prior to the jump. Whether a person is seeking the adrenalin rush of parachuting as a regular hobby, or wants to raise funds for a good cause by completing a one-off sponsored jump, it is important to prepare well for the jump by completing a course at one of the UK’s 25 British Parachute Association-approved parachute clubs. These are located throughout the UK and range from professional full-time centres to weekend clubs run by expert volunteers.
Types of Jumps
A novice can make his first jump in one of three manners:
- A static line descent involves the jumper exiting the aircraft at around 3,500 feet and having the parachute deployed automatically by means of a static webbing line attached between the aircraft and the parachute pack. This type of jump requires just six hours of pre-jump training.
- Accelerated freefall (AFF) requires an intensive course, of one week, which will qualify the participant as a skydiver. The first descent will take place at an exit height of 12,000 feet, and will take place with two expert instructors, who will jump with the novice and guide him with radio-communicated instructions and hand signals. The jumper will fall for approximately 45 seconds before deploying his own parachute. During the week, the jumper will perform around ten jumps.
- The quickest and easiest way to experience parachuting is via a tandem jump, where the jumper is strapped to an instructor via a dual harness system. Preparation for a tandem jump takes just 15 minutes. The instructor and jumper will exit the aircraft at around 10,000 feet and the instructor will deploy the parachute at around 5,000 feet, allowing the jumper to relax and enjoy the experience.