February 25, 2023
I am sitting in Craig’s garage being fitted for my first skydiving video camera helmet. It is a plastic helmet with a sheet metal enclosure for my Sony Hi8 video camera. Mounted to the front will be a Canon EOS Rebel SLR still film camera.
My head is draped with plastic as Craig blows foam between my head and the helmet. The acrid smell is overwhelming. A slight pressure presses against my temples. This helmet will fit snugly and solidly on my head.
Back home, I mount the video camera into the enclosure and close the rear access door fastened with a bungee. The still camera mount snaps in with a satisfying click. I drill a hole for the articulating ring sight and bolt it into place. The ring sight is a circle of plexiglass with a dot painted in the middle. In freefall I will line up the dot with the center of my subject to center the frame of the video.
You can discover your dominant eye by forming a small circle with the fingers of your hand. Focus through the circle with both eyes on some object. Close one eye. If the object stays in the circle the open eye is dominant. If the object jumps out of the circle the closed eye is dominant. My ring site is mounted over my left eye because I am left eye dominant. My left eye is for targeting and my right eye is for depth.
The helmet is not comfortable. Putting it on drags painfully over my ears. It is stable and always sits on my head with the same orientation, but the constant pressure from the blown in foam is agonizing.
Some weeks later, I am at the gear store at the skydiving drop zone. I buy some soft foam pads from another helmet manufacturer. I remove the blown in foam and glue the pads into the helmet. The fit is snug and comfortable. The pads allow for a slight shift of the helmet on my head, but when I tighten the chin strap it is stable enough to hold the frame of my video camera still.
Manifest calls my flight: “Otter number six, 20 minutes.”
Having geared up I board my airplane with the 4-way team I am filming. On jump run I open the helmet access door and turn the video camera on. The beep of the camera echos in the metal enclosure. It is on. I press the hand trigger for the still camera and hear the satisfying click of the shutter. I close the access door and latch it with the bungee. Ready.
Red light. My team opens the airplane door. Green Light. I climb out onto the rear camera step, holding against the wind with the hand peg. The two floaters of my team swing out, clutching the hang bar, poised on the outside of the airplane. As the other two teammates take grips from inside the plane, the rear floater bobs up and down yelling, “Ready! Set! Go!”
I hesitate slightly and peel off the airplane with the 4-way. Extending my camera suit wings, I hover over the team as they perform their first few maneuvers on the hill. Reaching terminal velocity they continue to turn points. I keep the gyrating skydivers in frame centering the ring site dot on the team.
Ten points, eleven points, twelve points…
At 5000 feet the team lets go, turns and flies away from each other, seeking clear air to open their parachutes.
I hold my position in the center and slowly turn one 360 watching the team track away. I wave off, reach back for my pilot chute and throw it into the wind of freefall.
In freefall, the bungee had come loose and the metal access door had swung open. As my parachute deploys the main lift risers strike the open door. The helmet is instantly wedged off my head and thrown in front of me, hovering surreal. I reach out to grab it, but in that moment the helmet drops away at 120 miles per hour as my parachute opens fully.
A bizarre thought occurs to me. I can cut away my main parachute, dive down to the still falling helmet, grab it, then deploy my reserve parachute.
“That’s just stupid,” I say to myself.
Instead I watch the helmet fall to the Earth, landing in a puff of dust. I fly my parachute over to where it landed. Once landed, I walk over to the helmet and see that it is smashed. The plastic helmet is in two pieces. The metal video housing is crushed. The video camera inside is demolished. The still camera is missing.
About ten yards away is my Rebel still camera, face down in the dirt. I walk over to it. It seems intact. Is it possible that the camera survived a 3000 foot drop? I pick up the camera and all the glass optics pour out of the lens onto the ground. It did not survive.
But I did survive. Because of the soft foam pads the helmet came easily off my head. On reflection, I realize had I not replaced the rigid blown in foam my parachute might have torn my head off. I was lucky, in spite of losing $1000 worth of helmet and camera equipment.
The next day it occurs to me that my home owner’s insurance covers loss of personal property. Personal property, however, is only covered due to certain perils listed in the policy. In my policy these named perils are fire, lightning, explosion, vandalism and aircraft, among others.
I do some research and contact my insurance agent.
“Hey John, this is Rick. I’ve got an unusual claim I want to run by you.”
“What happened Rick?”
I explain the loss of my camera helmet and equipment.
“I’m not sure that is covered,” said John. I can hear him shaking his head over the phone.
“I think it might be. My homeowner’s insurance covers loss caused by an aircraft. Webster defines an aircraft as, ‘… a vehicle for traveling through the air.’ By that definition my parachute is an aircraft.”
“Submit the claim. Let’s see what underwriting says.”
The next day I submit the claim complete with “my damage caused by an aircraft” argument. Three weeks later a check arrives for the amount of $1000. I call up John to thank him.
“I went to bat for you Rick. Underwriting resisted at first, but your argument was sound. They did tell me that the company will be considering excluding damage caused by a parachute from future policies. I think they will call it the ‘Thues skydiving clause’.”
Today I am at the gear store buying a new carbon composite, streamlined camera helmet with no protrusions to catch on my parachute. Tomorrow I will purchase a new Sony digital video camera and a new Rebel still camera.
I look forward to filming my team next week.
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