My first jump was two days after my sixteenth birthday and shortly after my father retrieved me from Philadelphia on my way to Hatteras with my best friend Deeb. So that would have been April 14, 1980. I'm guessing I had at least 30 jumps and was well off instruction when I had the malfunction.
The malfunction was the result of packing too fast. Instead of taking the time too properly stow the lines in back and forth neatly rubber banded rows I kind of shoveled them in and closed in an attempt to fill a vacated seat on a plane that was about to take off. In retrospect, they would have waited.
When I pulled what I got was a tangled up ball of spaghetti leaving partially inflated bubbles but nothing that could have been straightened out in the air falling at roughly 170 miles per hour. It's called a Mae West, I don't know why, I'll have to look it up. Regardless of what I was looking at and obviousness to my fully deployed jump mates above me and then pretty quickly everyone on the ground, I continued to pull at the lines in disbelief, doing everything I could to straighten that canopy out.
Ground rush occurs at 700 feet which is about 4 seconds before impact. I looked down, saw the ground rushing up at me and cut away. The Steven's cut away system for student rigs is a one step process that disengages the main and then deploys the reserve. What I knew from training was that it took twelve pounds of force to release the tacking that held the reserve lines in place. Turns out it takes one hell of a lot more than that to pull out the daisy chain that holds them neatly in place. I pulled and pulled not understanding why I had a partially inflated canopy and then finally got enough line for deployment but not enough to steer. So there I was with an oscillating canopy threatening to collapse and I'm pulling hard on the right and then the left lines to get it to stop.
I landed hard and I lived. Some kid from one of the developments retrieved and stole the cut away main. Little bastard. By the time they found it, knocking door to door, the kid had already cut it up into a million pieces. Dumb ass, it makes a much better toy whole. Must have skipped that particular parachute gym day.
There has been a great deal of debate on the minimum age for skydiving. It used to be 16 and now it is 18. I don't know how much difference those two years make but if a person is going to ignore the signs and keep tugging those lines then that's what they're going to do no matter how much living they've done. Commitment to a collapsed main will kill you if you don't cut away at or before ground rush.