CHICAGO — iFly opened its first indoor skydiving location in Illinois in 2014. The vertical wind tunnels are now open in Rosemont, Naperville and Lincoln Park, and many people say it’s a great time. You get the rush of skydiving without having to jump out of a plane.
Records from the Illinois Department of Labor, though, show at least 18 accidents at those facilities. The state relies on iFly to self-report any incidents. State records show you are more likely to get hurt indoor skydiving than riding a rollercoaster in Illinois. The vast majority of the incidents involve shoulder injuries.
Records also show that in 2015, a college student had the tip of his nose cut off when he fell face first into the metal safety netting at iFly’s Rosemont location. He required four surgeries. The first took ten hours. He sued, arguing in part, flyers should be provided with full face masks, just like the ones provided to instructors. His case settled this month out of court.
iFly says participants can be as young as 3 and as old as 103. Flyers have to sign a waiver, though, and disclose any health conditions. They warn if you have neck, back, shoulder, or heart problems you shouldn’t participate. iFly’s waiver and release of liability warns people they could even die, though its website says indoor skydiving is safe.
Ashwin Rodrigues, a freelance writer in New York, says he wishes he had known more about the risks before he agreed to fly. After a $40,000 shoulder injury he tried to find out just how often people were getting injured at these facilities. He says it was difficult to find information because it isn’t readily available. He filed open records request in 35 counties in states all across the country and found at least 120 accidents. He says more than half of them were shoulder injuries.
iFly tells people not to fly if they have had previous shoulder injuries. Rodrigues says he didn’t have any problems with his shoulder before he flew, and was in the best shape of his life.
“It was a cool feeling for the few moments that I did it,” he says. “But if I knew it was going to have such a lasting impact on my life I wouldn’t have taken that risk.”
Yelp reviews say flying is a great experience, but many detail injuries and trips to the emergency room.
A spokesperson for iFly says customer safety has always been its top priority. They would not answer specific questions or do an on-camera interview with us. But the company says it stands by its safety record. More than nine million people have taken flight over the years.