Two tandem skydives have gone wrong in the air over Wollongong, with mid-air emergencies forcing instructors to cut away the main parachutes.
The first occurred around 10am on Monday, October 2, with a female instructor forced to cut away the main parachute after it failed to open correctly. The chute landed in the car park of the Illawarra Mercury's office on Market Street.
"The lady looked up and saw the canopy start to open, when the canopy started opening it was kind of a little bit spinning," Skydive Australia Wollongong operations manager and chief instructor Kobi Bokay said.
The instructor decided to cut off the main parachute and the pair landed safely using the reserve.
Then at 11.55am, a second emergency happened when a male instructor was forced to cut away his main parachute.
Paramedics and police scrambled to North Wollongong Beach after the chute landed in the ocean off the popular swimming spot.
The instructor and 31-year-old male customer landed safely.
Mr Bokay said the weather was "perfect" and the "cut aways" had nothing to do with wind or heat conditions.
They can fail to open correctly for a number of reasons - the wind, body position or they may not have been packed symmetrically.
Skydivers always jump with two parachutes - the main one and a reserve - and staff regularly practice for mid-air emergencies, including landings in the ocean.
"The instructor then needs to make a decision. First we try to fix the problem. If we can't fix the problem ... we can't control the canopy. We're going to chop the main canopy, and we're going to open the reserve," Mr Bokay said.
"It's really rare, but it happens.
"We do everything we can to prevent any injury for the customer, that's why we train."
To set your mind at ease not only is there a reserve parachute but there is a mechanism that automatically opens the parachute at 2000 feet.
The company do around 12,000 skydives a year in Wollongong and he said incidents like this occur in around one in every 1000 jumps.
Before COVID the company completed 25,000-28,000 jumps a year in Wollongong.
Mr Bokay has had to personally cut off the main parachute of a tandem to use the reserve eight times in the past 15 years.
The parachutes valued at roughly $4000 to $5000 are always retrieved by Skydive Australia where possible.
In the seven years that Mr Bokay has worked as an instructor in Wollongong he said parachutes have always been retrieved except on a single occasion when it landed in the ocean in rough surf.
On the rare occasion a parachute is cut off, Skydive Australia Wollongong immediately call emergency services to inform them.
Over the long weekend, the Wollongong Skydive team were fully booked as people lined up for tandem skydiving taking a plane from Shellharbour Airport to their drop-off point 15,000 feet above sea level above Stuart Park in Wollongong.
Mr Bokay loves the freedom of tandem skydiving and enjoys witnessing people experiencing it for the first time.
"It's beautiful to take someone for the first time to this experience and share that with me," he said.
"We meet the real person in that jump ... you can pretend you're someone else but the moment that you [are] attached to me, and we go into the plane together. I can see your real personality."
If you ever spot a parachute around Wollongong, please call Skydive Australia to come and pick it up on 1300 520 132.
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