Ian Sharp, a Mile-Hi Skydiving local, saw his reserve for the first time on his very first day of wingsuiting–when he was under a thousand feet off the deck. Here’s his story in his own words.
I started skydiving about a year and a half before the day it happened. My Cypres saved my life on the first day I’d ever put on a wingsuit. I had just over 200 jumps, and I was flying a 210 at the time.
I had been jumping the wingsuit all day. This was my eighth jump on it, and I was super stoked, and things were going more and more awesome. It was going to be my last jump of the day: the sunset load. I was pretty tired at that point.
For this one, I was meant to be doing my first back exit. Looking back on it, I probably should have left the back exit for another day. I hadn’t done any previous backflying. I probably should have just done a normal exit and executed some some barrel rolls; maybe just checked out back flying, but I didn’t. I just wanted to try the back exit, so I did it.
The exit actually went pretty smoothly. I did most of the jump on my back, and I was flying well. I started to turn toward the east and fly back towards the drop zone. I went to roll over and fly belly again to deploy the parachute. I got into a flat spin instead.
It was super gnarly; super violent. Things got out of hand really fast. I just freaked out. I didn’t really have enough experience at the time to get out of a scenario like that. I fought the suit when I should have just relaxed and just let the suit fly, but I just couldn’t seem to get out of it. I was trying so hard, but I couldn’t reach my handles, and I couldn’t get to my BOC. I couldn’t reach anything. Then I started getting head down–like, super fast. I felt myself start to black out; felt my vision closing in. The audible was going off in my ear. It sounded like a siren. I fully expected to go in.
At 1,000 feet, it sounded like a shotgun went off. I could feel the spring. I half-saw the reserve fly by my head.
I remember thinking that opening was one of the nicest, softest openings I have ever had. I didn’t even hurt my neck, and I swung out pretty good. I was pretty dazed; I actually watched my free bag hit the ground just before me. It was crazy, being that low. I didn’t have time to unzip the suit. I could tell I was flying towards a hill. Before I knew it, I was just about to hit the ground. I was able to flare, and I PLF’d. I just laid there for a minute. It felt surreal. I mean–I wasn’t even injured. Nothing.
I unzipped my suit and got all my stuff together, then looked around. The drop zone was to the east of me–4 to 6 miles, maybe. It was getting dark. I didn’t have a phone with me, which was stupid. Since then, I always take a phone with me, just in case.
My main never came out. It was still packed inside the container. When I went over to grab my free bag, I found a sun-bleached helmet that must have fallen off somebody else years ago, half buried in the ground. I grabbed it and walked for what must have been an hour before I got to a road. Once I was on the main drag, I saw the DZ truck looking for me. I was, like, shit, he is going to be pissed off at me, but he wasn’t really that mad. He was just worried. We talked about it. I could hardly answer his questions. To this day I don’t have an exact reason why it happened and how I could have gotten out of it.
That helmet I found–well, the owner was on the dropzone that day, so I gave it to him. He was happy about that. I got my reserve packed, then I went out and jumped the very next day. I had to get back on the horse. I was so lucky.
That jump was definitely an eye-opener. Before it happened, I didn’t really understand how easily you could see your last day in this sport. I don’t jump without an AAD. It’s like driving without an air bag. It’s just not a good idea to go without. It’s worth your life.