My platoon was training with the Spanish Special Forces in Almeria, Spain. We were doing a static line parachute insert with our Spanish counterparts and were then going to do a dismounted patrol. The jump started off strange. We were all required to sign a waiver stating that we wouldn’t sue the Spanish government in the case of injury or death. This is standard practice for civilian training, but usually never happens inside the military. We were jumping Spanish T10’s, so our guys didn’t pack our chutes, and there were no American Jumpmasters on the bird. That’s a lot of red flags.
Once we were airborne, luckily one of the guys on my team spoke fluent Spanish and relayed to us that the bird had no comm with the drop zone. We figured that we’d race track (basically do circles around the DZ) until comm was established. We were already hooked up, so we just stood there and waited. We didn’t have to wait long, about 20 seconds later, the light went green. It surprised us, since no one gave us an update, but we all figured that they had comm and everything was good to go. I was number 3 man out the door and once I had a canopy over my head, I remember thanking God my chute had opened. From there, it was a normal jump, for a minute or so.
One of my buddies screamed past me and yelled something. We were about 50 feet off the deck and coming in fast and hard. I couldn’t hear what he said and I was preparing for a hard landing. As I was getting ready to hit, I started bouncing and saw small explosions going away from me from each side. It took me a couple of seconds to realize that I had just landed in high-voltage power lines. The small explosions I saw were the transformers arching tower to tower as far as I could see. I immediately released my ruck, which was hanging on the lowering strap and was less than a foot from hitting the ground. Here’s the deal, if you’re in the lines and anything attached to you hits the ground or the tower, you’ll ground-out and get electrocuted. Once my kit was released, I took a moment to assess what to do. The whole rock your risers back and forth they teach in jump school wasn’t going to do it. That would have just resulted in my canopy still touching the power lines and my feet on the ground, and like we just discussed, wouldn’t have ended well.
So, I just figured that someone would kill the power and get a ladder to get me down. Then, my canopy re-inflated and started oscillating me. At the same time, I started going “up” the wires towards the tower. A few feet away from the tower, I had no choice but to hit my releases. As I released I was on a back swing, so I came crashing down basically parallel to the deck. Your natural reaction is to put your hands out to stop your fall. When I came to, I was looking at my palms, but should have been staring at the tops of my hands. Both arms were shattered. Later I learned that the number 1 guy missed the 5 click zone by almost a click, my buddy who tried to warn me landed so hard that his knee cap rotated around to the back of his leg, and three guys after me had severe concussions to the point they don’t remember anything after the landing. We also found out the winds on the ground were over 30 knots and the chute we were jumping was rated for less than half of that, and the bird had never had comm with the ground.
All in all, the training that Special Operations conducts can be dangerous and at times deadly. My “bad jump” turned out pretty well, considering. After this jump, the Marine Corps realized that we absolutely rated the hazard pay associated with jumping. Since that jump, Recon guys on jump status have had uninterrupted pay. Hey, at least I got my Spanish Jump Wings, right?
Bill Janson is a former Recon Marine and is the founder of Eleven 10, a tactical gear manufacturer.