You’re dead … until the parachute deploys

I’ve done 467 skydives in my life, but the one I remember the most is jump 212. It’s hard to forget about a skydive when your main parachute doesn’t work.

I was training with my four-man skydiving team in southern California. It was a sunny day with blue skies and not a cloud in sight.

We were doing four-way relative work, where you complete as many acrobatics and formations as you can in 35 seconds.

Four-way relative work is akin to a military drill team, with the exception that you’re rocketing toward the ground at 120 mph.

My team exited the plane at 10,500 feet. The first half of the jump went well, and we completed 16 formations.

At 3,000 feet — the break off altitude — our audible altitude alarms beeped in our ears. We turned away from each other and flew across the sky in opposite directions.

When I’d cleared my teammates airspace, I deployed my parachute at 2,000 feet. I instantly knew something was wrong.

Instead of my parachute opening overhead, it was horizontal to my body. The lines connecting to my parachute were twisted up, which is similar to a person spinning themselves around on a swing.

I was plummeting toward the earth at 50 mph. There was no way I could land my main parachute, but that’s why you have a reserve.

I looked at my altimeter: 1,500 feet.

Every skydiver wears a backpack style parachute. And below the shoulder harness, there’s a handle on your right side that enables you to cutaway your main parachute.

But I’d never had an emergency before, and when I tried to pull the cutaway handle it wouldn’t budge.

A person never knows how they’re going to react in a crisis situation until they’re faced with one. How would I respond?

Surprisingly, I didn’t panic. I achieved a sense of calm I’d never experienced before. Everything slowed down and I heard my skydiving instructor’s voice.

“On your first cutaway the handle might stick,” he’d once told me. “So if that happens try peeling the handle instead of pulling it.”

His words flashed through my mind in milliseconds. I heeded his advice and peeled my cutaway handle this time.  My main parachute disconnected and I was back in free fall.

I slipped my hand through the metal D-ring on my left side and deployed my reserve. A few moments later, I had a glorious white canopy overhead.

I was at 900 feet, but I was safe. I landed my parachute without further incident.

My family and friends always ask me if I have death wish, and I always tell them it’s quite the opposite.

Every time you jump out of the plane, I tell them, you’re dead. And it’s only by the decisions you make that you’re able to survive. So whenever I pull my ripcord, I view it as an affirmation of life.

And I’d never known how much I wanted to live until jump 212.

Kitsana Dounglomchan, a 12-year Air Force veteran, writes about his life and times for Clovis Media Inc. Contact him at: