This is a story from my school days…
The last school lesson for the day seemed very long to me. Once it ended, I ran to the airfield. At the age of 16, skydiving was my passion, and I did not want to miss a jump. Just arrived and saw that my friends are ready to board the plane, and there was one seat left. Yelled to coach that I needed just a minute, and he asked me to hurry. Rushed to the parachute hall and frantically started opening cabinets one after another, as if making a robbery, looking for anything packed I could put on my back in order to be allowed to jump.
Here it was: fully ready, but still very old PD47 (yes, '47' is the year of the model) system, packed for a static line jump. Not that great fun without freefalling, but still something. Within minutes, I was sitting on the floor of a very old Soviet-made AN-2, just within the door frame, with my left leg hanging outside and playing with the air stream, enjoying the view over our town. As I boarded last on the already heading to the runway airplane, I was the first one to jump, so I left the plane once it was over the drop zone, at about 800m altitude. The parachute opened normally, and the next step was to inspect it for problems.
I looked up and what I saw was non-realistic: the fabric of my parachute had countless holes, few of them about half a meter, some lines were completely missing and others were broken, and whatever was left from them was dancing on the air stream. At the same time, descent seemed normal and stable. As I remembered each word of the instructions, I knew that I should open reserve if there was a hole bigger than one meter (this parachute was very large, 9 x 9 meters). No word in instructions about 30 holes, some almost a meter! Instructions also stated that you had to pull the reserve if more than three lines of a belt were broken (four belts with six lines per belt). Again, no word about 10, almost half of the lines broken or missing, but all four belts with at least 3 good lines each. I always respect instructions, so I decided that there was no need to open the reserve. Moreover, my weight was just 50kg. which was a thin load for this parachute.
I landed without problems, just to see my coach and his boss running towards me. They looked hectic and not happy at all. “Where did you got this?”, pointing to my parachute. “What is the ID number of this parachute?”, “Why it is in use?”. Many, many questions, asking each other too. Thus I understood that this parachute was scrapped long time ago. I explained that it was packed as normal, and I had no idea it had issues. They asked me to show the reserve. I dropped the main canopy on the ground, and they inspected the bag of the reserve, attached in front. “Open it!”. I pulled the cord, and what we saw left them speechless: the white canopy of the reserve fell on the ground. There were NO LINES. These lines are very useful for a number of applications, and since the parachute was scrapped, someone had taken the lines. No one had an answer why it was nicely packed and assembled as a ready-for-jump system.
I was too young to understand the severity of the situation, and it was just funny to me. Just now my visual memory reveals how they were not happy when I was talking and making fun of it. I did not notice it at that time. They had interest to hide the incident, as it was a very serious safety breach. I was even proud that I jumped with a totally devastated parachute, without reserve, and nothing happened to me. Just now, thirty two years later, my blood freezes when I imagine what could have happened that day.
Now I do not make compromises with anything. Every morning, before driving to the office, I check my car in a way some air companies don’t even check their aircraft. When I fly an ultra light aircraft as a hobby, I have two reserve parachutes: one attached to the aircraft, and a pilot one on my back, in case I have to leave the aircraft. For many people this looks insane, but it is nothing compared to what I do when it comes to ICDSoft servers: we keep 35 spare servers in total, each costing between $8000 and $20000. We change servers every three years, without waiting for them to fail, and we do the same with unused spare servers too. A spare server is like a reserve parachute: you invest in something you wish you will never use. As I am into extreme sports for over 33 years, “Safety first!” is the slogan I see written on gear, facilities, aircraft, and it has its imprint deeply in my mind. Perhaps this, together with my experience (I've seen what happens when people are careless or rely on luck), taught me that I should never make compromise with anything. It may look crazy and overkill, but my customers benefit from it.