Today marks the day I started jumping 30 years ago. Ale, a friend of mine, also started jumping 30 years ago. I started in Argentina in a very basic way: static- line with round surplus parachutes. He, on the other hand, started jumping in the USA doing his AFF and jumping square parachutes. Two opposite worlds back then. We were planning to celebrate it together around this date, back in our home DZ in Buenos Aires. We thought of inviting all of our friends from back in the day, share stories, and have a good time.
During all these years our paths kept crossing here and there. He was already a national 4-way champion when I started flying camera. He eventually started doing big ways, and later participated in Roger Nelson's world records including the 246-way in the mid-'90s. He tried to help me get on those loads, but I didn't have much experience back then. Well, I have taken care of that over the years.
In the late 90’s he started to Freefly, and gave me a piece of advice: “You'd better start learning this new thing or you will be obsolete in a few years”. These words keep resonating with me.
Years later, I followed his advice and trained like crazy to be able to shoot free- flying. Around that time, he made a comeback to the sport, after having a break for a few years, to take care of his family and businesses (he was a very successful entrepreneur).
As a fan of big ways he was, no doubt he wanted to be in free-fly records, so he started training head down, and going to lots of camps in Brazil. Last year, he decided to change his Crossfire for a cross-braced JFX. It was clear he wasn't super talented when it came to high-performance landings (and honestly, I don’t think that's something you should start doing when you’re 50 years old). Nevertheless, he was an experienced skydiver with thousands of jumps on his belt, not a crazy kid starting. The last time I saw him was this past February in an event where he got his new canopy: a Leia... Leia? Really? I thought to myself: "What is he doing with that thing?". I'm not into high-speed landings but I knew that it was a racing machine from Icarus NZ Aerosports. I asked him: "Why are you jumping that? In my opinion, that's very dangerous". But he told me: “Don’t worry, I’ll take it easy. I will turn high, etc...”.
I didn’t think much about it and let it go. This is something that I will regret for the rest of my life... It's not like my advice (as well as all other professional organizers that were there in the event, and also tried to advise him), would make him not jump it. But maybe he would think twice about using it.
Six months ago, he got himself in a bad situation at an event. He made a mistake on his turn, tried to correct it, and killed himself on impact.
Losing him devastated our group of old friends from Argentina, he was the first of us to go, and everybody was asking the same question: "Ale? killed on landing? He was very experienced, current, and conservative. He had never been a swooper. How could that have happened?"
So I went to Icarus' website to learn more about this Leia canopy, and read this: “It’s designed for pilots who already have lots of experience swooping small, highly loaded cross-braced wings. Made for highly skilled pilots to fly every day, it is not a toy, it’s a WEAPON....”It’s not made for the faint-hearted. If you are one of the few people that want to fly a class 5 canopy consider every aspect of what you are doing very carefully. On the upside, you can get very exhilarating airspeed, quick responses, and powerful maneuverability. On the downside, our margin for error has reduced to almost nothing (!)”
It is easy to verify that my friend didn’t have any of the requirements advised by the manufacturer, so, why was he jumping it??? Without a doubt, he overestimated his abilities and got a false sense that it is normal to jump a hyper high-performance canopy when you jump one or two weekends a month, a few hundred jumps a year, when in fact, you’re not a full time pro jumping every day.
And certainly, he was misinformed about which canopy was right for him. Everybody I have talked to, that had jumped with him, told me that it didn't feel right for him, but he got a second-hand canopy anyway. Later, I asked an Icarus representative in an event and he told me: “We are responsible for whom we sell our canopies at first, but not what happens with it after that. That's the seller's responsibility". That pisses me off because the same situation keeps happening since high performance canopies started to appear some 30 years ago. Skydivers used to get killed when their parachutes didn’t open, not with a fully opened one!!!!
The pain of losing my friend will never go away, but I do hope this story serves as a lesson and help others to choose wisely.
Be safe out there.
Two months later, Icarus NZ released the following statement:
Some tips and minimum requirements for selling your Petra's and Leia's on the second hand market.