Hunt Watch 2008 - "Why am I upside down and underwater?"
This report was filed by IFAW Seal Communications Officer Katie McConnell...
In preparation for HuntWatch, our team has to complete a myriad of tasks before arriving in Charlottetown, P.E.I.
Most tasks are fairly standard…gather key footage, pack up video cameras and editing equipment, organize information for DFO observer permits, etc., etc. This year however, we added a less conventional task that needed to be completed…an underwater aircraft ditching course! Now you may ask what an underwater aircraft ditching course has to do with seals, but the answer is very simple.
In light of last year’s global warming disaster in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, our team had to fly almost exclusively over open water. Not to mention we haven’t been able to land our helicopter on a solid piece of ice since 2005! The team realized it would be in our best interest to have a bit of training under our belts on how to survive in the “unlikely event of a water landing.” Sure, makes total sense on paper, but what does this training actually entail? How about getting into an open-ended piece of fuselage, strapping yourself to a chair, closing your eyes and waiting for the entire thing to be dunked into a swimming pool and tipped upside down underwater? I’m not kidding.
Our observation team headed to Survival Systems, Inc. in Groton, CT to learn how to get ourselves safely out of a submerged helicopter. The staff there was extremely knowledgeable and took us step-by-step through the skills we needed to escape through windows and doors in order to get to the surface of the water. The system was pretty easy to grasp. We were advised to stay seated and strapped to our chairs as the water rushed in through the floor and the simulator tipped upside down.
The thinking here was to keep us in one spot with a constant orientation to the window or door next to us. As long as we stayed in the same position, we couldn’t float around the cabin or lose our way out. After several hours of practice in the pool (luckily it was 80 degrees) and about 5 or 6 escapes, we all felt pretty confident in our aircraft ditching abilities. We now have a lot more respect for the safety precautions we take before flying out over the Gulf as well as invaluable skills in how to save our own lives should we ever be faced with a ditching situation.
Of course, as luck would have it, now that we are freshly trained in underwater egress, there seems to be ice in the gulf ;-)