Swimming Lessons for a Chopper Crew
by Troy Rudy
Tactical Flight Officer, Calgary Police Air Services Unit
Pro Aviation instructors gave the members chilling examples where crews who survived crashes only to tragically drown within the confines of the aircraft because of panic and lack of training. Further time was dedicated to the training pool, where team members used an underwater egress trainer to learn how to remove themselves from their aircraft should it go down in water.
They were seat belted into a simulated aircraft cockpit, inverted beneath the surface of the water. Remaining calm and calling upon their training, they were able to locate and remove the door, grab a reference point, release the seat harness and pull themselves to safety. Sounds easy enough, until members are blindfolded by the instructors after several more practices, who surprise everyone by blocking one of the doors, forcing them to exit out the opposite side. That manoeuvre is a certain test of confidence and emotional control.
HAWC1 chief pilot Brendan McCormick, who was trained in underwater escape for his previous job, said it gives flight crews "that extra margin of safety."
"It doesn't matter if you're saving a person from the water or picking up a bucket of water," he said. "When you're over the water, there is just one engine standing between you and the water."
According to a recent Transportation Safety Board report, the majority of pilots who die after crashing into water are found inside the aircraft. Only a small number actually died on impact, leading researchers to believe many drowned after failing to find a way out. McCormick points out that they drown because they panic.
"When you're in the water, you tend to do that," McCormick said. "Just getting familiar with what could happen could make all the difference."
This is the first time many members of the air services unit received egress training because it is not mandated by the industry. Everyone was impressed and grateful for the opportunity. The Air Services Unit now has the skills to prepare for a successful underwater evacuation, but no one is looking forward to using this skill.
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