Parachutes have been in use for hundreds of years and date back to China in the 1100s. The pyramid-shaped wooden frame from which a man is suspended in Leonardo da Vinci’s 1495 sketch was actually built and tested centuries later by Adrian Nicholas in the late 20th century. The modern sport of skydiving began as jumping out of hot air balloons in France near the end of the 18th century. Women started to appear on the scene later in the 19th century. Today, women account for between 15 percent and 20 percent of skydivers.*
Parachutes were used in World War I to rescue occupants of observation balloons that had emergencies, while pilots were still instructed to land in these situations. It was not until 1925 that the first emergency bailout from an airplane took place. The first troop insertion by parachute took place in World War II and is credited with turning the tide of the war against the Axis powers. After World War II, there was a surplus of military parachutes and former soldiers with the courage to jump. By 1957, the first commercial skydiving schools began to appear and the term “skydiver” was coined.*
According to the United States Parachute Association (USPA), the sport of skydiving continues to be associated with an improved safety record. In the 1960s, close to 8,000 individuals were members of the USPA, with a fatality rate of 3.65 per 1,000 members.† Over the last five decades, the activity’s popularity has grown, and the USPA’s membership has increased to close to 34,000 in 2012; members performed more than 3 million jumps with a fatality rate of 0.64 per 1,000 members. In 2012, there were 19 skydiving fatalities and another 915 skydiving injuries.† Skydiving involves inherent risk with most injuries resulting from human error. Through the efforts of the USPA and an adherence to strict safety standards, training policies, and programs, skydiving is a relatively safe sport.
To examine the occurrence of skydiving injuries in the National Trauma Data Bank® (NTDB®) research dataset for 2012, admissions medical records were searched using the International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification (ICD-9-CM). Specifically searched was the external cause of injury code (E-code) E844.7 (other specified air transport accidents injuring parachutist in voluntary descent). A total of 133 records were found; 128 contained a hospital discharge status including 96 patients discharged to home, 18 to acute care/rehab, and 12 to skilled nursing facilities; two died. These patients were 75 percent male, on average 38.2 years of age, had an average hospital length of stay of 6.6 days, an intensive care unit length of stay of 4.2 days, an average injury severity score of 11.2, and were on the ventilator for an average of 5.4 days. A total of 22 percent went directly to the operating room, and another 20 percent went to the intensive care unit directly from the emergency department (see figure).
While jumping out of a perfectly good airplane is not everyone’s idea of fun, those who are apprehensive or fearful of the jump may look to history for inspiration. In 1940, before a planned mass military training jump, several soldiers were scared due to the potential for mishap with so many departing the aircraft at once. In an effort to encourage their trepidatious comrades, a number of soldiers shouted out the name of the movie that was shown on base the night before as they exited the plane: Geronimo.
Throughout the year, we will be highlighting data through brief reports in the Bulletin. The NTDB Annual Report 2012 is available on the ACS website as a PDF file and as a PowerPoint presentation at www.ntdb.org. In addition, information regarding how to obtain NTDB data for more detailed study is available on the website. If you are interested in submitting your trauma center’s data, contact Melanie L. Neal, Manager, NTDB, at email@example.com.
Statistical support for this article has been provided by Chrystal Caden-Price, data analyst, NTDB.
* Poynter D, Turoff M. Parachuting: The Skydiver’s Handbook. 10th ed. Santa Barbara, CA: Para Publishing; 2007.
†United Stated Parachute Association. Skydiving safety. Available at: www.uspa.org/AboutSkydiving/SkydivingSafety/tabid/526/Default.aspx. Accessed June 13, 2013.