No Shit There I Was: Children of the Corn

It was a normal skydive, eventful as fuck, when it came time to open my chute. The deployment was smooth and on heading. “Damn,” I thought. “I’ll have to thank my packer. Oh, wait, that was me! Yay me!” I was a little far from the dz, so not wanting to waste any time getting home, I reached up to pop the brakes. That’s when I noticed it: a stuck toggle. And this toggle wasn’t just a little stuck, it was how-the-hell-did-I-do-that?-stuck. There was no way of clearing it, so I weighed my options. I could either attempt to land this thing on back risers, or I could cut away and fly the reserve. Swoopers made it look easy enough, but it wasn’t something I was proficient with on this canopy. So with altitude slipping away, I opted for the second option. “No problem,” I thought. “I’ve done this twice before. I’ll just chop and put ‘er down in a nice open spot.” So I chopped.

The reserve deployment was as clean as anyone could hope for. Fractions of a second after pulling both handles, I looked up to find a perfectly inflated reserve. The Skyhook, and more importantly, my rigger (who happens to be my wife) had done their job perfectly. “Thanks Babe!” I shouted. Then, after stowing my handles and getting a bead on my main, I turned my attention to putting myself on the ground. At 1500 feet, I still had lots of time to choose a landing spot. Four stood out, all with their own issues. First I spotted a road, but being gravel, I’d hate to get torn up should I slide in or do a PLF. Next to the road was a ditch. Radiating bright green, I figured it’d be covered in soft grass, but I didn’t know its slope and worried of rolling down the hill. Then there was the barnyard, but after spotting what looked like a washer, dryer, and discarded automotive parts, I worried not only about hitting shit, but about the goat-roping hillbillies who might see me as a present from heaven. So, I chose door number four: the cornfield. Being native to the upper midwest, I was accustomed to landing in corn every now and again. I figured “What the hell, it’s not like I haven’t done this before.”

I set myself up on an upwind final, to land just a few rows in from the road. The thought being that once I landed I wouldn’t have to walk far to get out of the field. Everything was going fine, and then I flared for the top of the corn. WHAM! I dropped like a stone. I don’t know what exactly just happened, but it happened so fast that all of a sudden I found myself on the ground, on my ass, buried in eight-foot stalks. Then the pain hit. I had heard a CRACK on landing, but had hoped it was a cornstalk breaking. It wasn’t the corn. My leg had snapped. A quick feel above my left ankle confirmed it. There was a bulge where no bulge should have been, plus the fact that my foot went one way while the leg went another wasn’t a good sign. All sorts of obscenities flew from my mouth, followed by whimpers of pain, and then thoughts of: “Well, I better get my shit off before the paramedics come and cut it off.”

PD New Beginning

All told, I spent about forty-five minutes in the corn that day. The time went fast; I had friends to keep me company. First, there was Fred, the neighbor who saw me land and heard my cries for help when he came looking for me. Then there was the dz staff member. Joel was his name, I think. Good guy who knew enough to spot a fracture when he saw it and call the ambulance for me. And, of course, there were the paramedics. Nice people, but a little resistant to my charm. They cut my jumpsuit and shoe off me. I loved that shoe.

we have the technology

we have the technology

we can rebuild him

we can rebuild him

As expected, I took a ride to the hospital and spent the rest of the day with some fine doctors and spunky nurses. The rest, they say, is history. Eight months, three surgeries, two procedures, one rod, a plate, a dozen screws, and weeks of physical therapy later, I’m back in the air again like nothing happened. The thing is, though, something had happened, and I think of it often. How would it have turned out had I tried to land the main with back risers? What if I had set the reserve down on one of my other possible landing targets? Going back even earlier, how could I have prevented the toggle lock? In hindsight, what could I have done differently?

-Billy Hayes


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