Getting yourself ready for egress (escape) from a ditched airplane takes some practice, rather this be from a land ditching or even a water ditching. As an Aviation Survivalman with the U. S. Coast Safeguard, one of my many jobs was to perform or instruct egress training in both the fixed wing and disc winged aircraft.
Over the years (twenty plus), I started adding different situations to my training curriculum that I experienced would help to not only keep the (bi-annual) training from being redundant plus boring, but would add a various perspective to my trainees. In other words, the standard training places the participant in the assigned flying position with a blindfold. When the instructor yells egress, everybody removes their seat belts, then utilizing a hand over hand craw along the bulkhead, they find their way to the closest exit and depart the particular aircraft. The egress training is usually then signed off and back to their shops they go.
One year whilst doing water ditch egress training on a C-130, I decided to change things up a bit. I made the very first run very simple. I had them strap in without blindfold and smacked the 245 bulkhead loudly with my palm and yelled, you just hit the water! As they were conditioned to do for years, they immediately launched their seat belts and started their own hand over hand craw towards their particular exit, and stepped out on towards the hanger deck looking for the sign-off sheet. “Not so quick men. Everyone back inside and a few do this with the blindfold on”. At this stage, everyone is thinking, this should be a breeze. Once everyone was strapped in and blindfolded, I had my assistants modify some configurations in the aircraft. A particular change was to block the primary exits, and allowing only one quit point, the left paratroop doorway in the back of the aircraft. But it get’s better. I rotated the deal with that opens the paratroop door to the open position. In other words, these people only needed to lift up on the doorway to open it. Oh, and do I mention the twelve move seat pallet that was placed in the middle of the cargo compartment?
Once everyone was back in position and strapped in, I slapped the bulkhead and yelled, you just hit the water. When i suspected, they all released from the makes use of and started their hand over hand craw along the bulkhead. Bang! I slapped the bulkhead a second period and yelled, “the aircraft provides hit the water again and you are all of dead”! I explained that if the aircraft came to a stop on the very first impact, it would be very dynamic plus would most likely result in full causality, especially for anyone not strapped within. However , on a typical, well performed water landing, the aircraft will certainly skip two to three times. Such as throwing a flat rock to skip.
Once this was discussed, we strapped in. After three slaps (yes me was starting to hurt), I screamed, the aircraft has come to a complete quit, EGRESS! So the cockpit crew slowly made their way down the steps to the main cargo compartment to the team entrance door. I yelled away, forward crew entrance door is blocked and unable to open because of submersion! Here’s where it gets interesting. I cannot tell you how many crewmembers got lost in that seat pallet! Even though they knew that the center aisle led through to the back of the aircraft, some actually started moving in between the seats to get through it. One guy never did ensure it is out and we ended up helping your pet. Once they made it to the paratroop doorway location, I called out the right paratroop door was jammed and basically directed them through process of illumination to the “already unlatched” paratroop door.
Even though many of these crewmembers have flown in this aircraft type for many years and have probably opened that paratroop door a thousand times, everybody of them grabbed the opening latch and rotated it to the closed (locked) position. They pulled on the door and guess what? It did not open! Then they rotated the latch to open and then back to closed and attempted again. After three or four efforts, I finally instructed them to take away the blindfold. It was then that they realized that the door was already in the open position whenever they got to it.
The point that I has been attempting to make is that once we get a mind set, it is easy to forget that things are not always the way they should be or seem to be. The objective of my class was in order to interject possible realisms associated with a good aircraft egress. Yes, it is very feasible that the cockpit crew would have selected the overhead hatch or the team entrance door or even one of the cockpit windows to escape, but I wanted these to experience the concept of secondary exits and even triatory exits. If one exit is unusable rather it be underwater or just jammed, they would have to be familiar with all the exits and the cognitive path to each of these exits. I had them talking to one another, yelling out “forward crew entrance is jammed and unusable”! This information would be valuable information to the crewmembers that were fumbling around the cargo area. It tells them to stop heading for that exit, therefore saving valuable time. Once the left paratroop door was opened, they were trained to yell out “left paratroop door is open”! They were advised to remain at that door, leading the other crew members to the only known (for sure) exit from the aircraft.
After interviewing many survivors of aircraft crashes, I realized that everyone had their own story about how they made it out. No occasion is the same. There were roadblocks that they came upon and because they trained for that event, they were better prepared to survive the event. On one particular interview using a pilot and a crewmember of a ditched helicopter, I was able to determine 2 factors that hampered their get away from the inverted aircraft. The helo was stationed aboard a CG Cutter for a deployment. After receiving some maintenance, the helo has been taken on a test flight by two pilots and one aircrew member in the back of the HH-65 helicopter. Because it was a test flight, the back crew door was kept in the open position. After completing rotor bank checks they decided to do a controlled rewrite (slowly) left and right to check the rudder. Everything went fine on the very first check, but then the co-pilot asked for to do the spins for their own training purposes. He completed the left turn, then reversed the rudder to come right when the heli-copter lost control and continued in order to rotate faster and faster leading to it to land sideways the water. They were only about twenty-feet off of the surface area, so the impact was mild but the onset was very quick. The trip mechanic in the back of the aircraft has been sitting right next to the opened up door. He closed his eye as the salt water slammed towards his face but he failed to have time to take a gulp associated with air prior to being met with the incoming water. The water pushed your pet back and basically pinned him towards his seat. Once the water equaled out (compartment was full) as well as the helicopter completed it’s inverted move, he attempted to release his seat harness which was now stressed with his weight against it. Suddenly, his many years of egress training kicked in. HEEDS! He reached down and removed his Helicopter Emergency Egress Device bottle, placed it to his mouth and blew exactly what little breath he had left into the regulator to clear it. After choking down some salt water in the process, he was finally able to have a couple of gasps of dry scuba air. Once he was able to create his airway, he placed his feet against the door and pushed himself back while releasing it harness. With his eyes still shut, he used a hand over hand motion and worked his method to the opposite side of the aircraft. He grabbed the crew entrance doorway handle and stopped.
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He considered to himself, if I go out this door, the investigators will question why I did not go out the open door that I was sitting close to when we went in. So he then started working his way back across the aircraft. At about half way, this individual realized that he had moved clear throughout the helo and half way back in order to his seat position and his eye were closed! He opened his eyes and saw the starting needed for his escape and hand over handed his way out of the airframe and popped up to the surface.