Formation skydiving- chute deployment safety

So you have anywhere from 4 to several hundred people falling at the same speed. So when it comes time to deploy your chute are there any safety procedures to make sure no one is above you? A rule like “look over your shoulder before deployment”. Or is there a safety rule in place like “never ever skydive over another person”?
I’m just wondering how when you have 300+ people in the air at the same time they are able to stay out of eachothers way. You’re freefalling 100m above someone who suddenly deploys their chute you’re both screwed.

In general, before deployment a freefall skydiver should “wave off” (make a symmetrical waving motion with the arms three times) before main chute deployment. This lets someone ahead know that he’ll be deploying the chute. For large formations, a break-off procedure is followed to ensure that divers will be out of each other’s way during main chute deployment. While collisions and entanglements do occasionally occur, generally necessitating cutting away to the reserve chute, surprisingly most collisions occur at or near landing.

In static line jumps the jumpers are spaced out in 1-2 second intervals, which generally provides enough spacing to prevent entanglement.


To expand a little on what Stranger said - there are definite procedures which will vary a bit as the number of participants increases. For small groups you’ll have an agreed breakoff altitude at which time everyone turns away from the center of the formation, moves away horizontally (tracking) and then goes through the waveoff/pull procedure. I was taught to actually look over both shoulders when I do the waveoff.

For larger formations it’s the same idea but the traffic control is more critical and breakoff altitudes are higher. There may be a designated person at the center of the formation who pulls, signalling that the breakoff routine has begun. The outer groups turn and track off, followed by the next layer in and so on. Everyone will have a designated pull altitude and they may be staggered (having large numbers of people opening at the same altitude all at once can make things crowded). People who do not follow proper procedure may find themselves off the jump. The really large jumps (formation records with hundreds of participants) are quite well organized.

It’s also drummed into everybody’s head as a student that you never want to be hanging out above someone in freefall. Accidental activations, emergencies and other such things do happen and collisions between someone in freefall and an inflating canopy can be deadly.

Military static-line jumps are a different situation - their goal is to get a large number of people down as quickly as possible. They may be jumping from hundreds rather than thousands of feet and the canopy deploys immediately as the soldier exits the plane. They’re going out single file so you get a long line with adequate separation between individuals as opposed to a mass of people in the same piece of sky at the same time.

I jumped the 727 cargo jet at Quincy years ago and they put us out in lines of 80 (two passes), exiting single file from the rear of the plane through the airstair. Even at a relatively low speed (for a cargo jet - I think it was ~120mph) people were quite well spread out. Some folks did small formations but it’s not like taking 20 people out the side of a Twin Otter where you can get them all out within a couple of seconds; the distance between first and last person could be noticeable.

Reference the adequate separation,this depended very much on the despatchers.

With adrenaline going and the objective of getting everyone out as fast as possible so that the troops would not be dispersed on the ground,
(plus the driver and his mates could get the hell out that much faster if there is hostile ground fire etc.)
mistakes did happen.

We usually jumped Sim sticks in that role,that is two lines similtaneously but staggered, exiting from both sides of the aircraft.

A colleague of mine died in an entanglement and people having to literally walk off of other peoples canopies in the air were while not common events weren’t that rare.