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Patrician - April 2002

Training for a Ditching

Victoria Flying Club Newsletter

by Dan MacDonald

Have you ever wondered what you would do if your engine quit while flying over the Strait of Georgia? The first time I flew over water I got a little freaked, but over time I got complacent. Every once in a while, though, I would ask myself what would I do if the engine stopped. Was I prepared to the best of my abilities to save not only myself, but my passengers?

Bryan Webster runs Aviation Egress Systems and offers a one day course on how to survive an aircraft ditching event.

The course starts at 9:30am with a classroom session. Bryan has not only been a passenger in a ditched aircraft, but he's put one into the trees after his engine quit so he knows what he is talking about. We covered all sorts of things like what to expect in a ditching, what we should do to increase our survivability, and why we should look at those life jackets beforehand. If you've got in those plastic bags they come in, have you ever thought what it would be like trying to rip them open if you're bobbing in cold water when the plastic is slippery? Add in a dislocated thumb and you might not get it open. The solution? Take a pair of scissors and make a partial cut along the flap to give you a place to grab and start the tear. Or better yet, put the life jacket on before you get into the plane.

Then it was time try what we learned in the pool. Bryan and his two helpers, Willy and Rob, were always nearby watching out for our safety. Usually there were two of them in the pool whenever someone was in the water. We started off with a simple chair contraption that we strapped ourselves into with a seatbelt. They pushed it down under the water and we undid the seatbelt and got out. Second time through, they rolled it upside down. Third time, we were supposed to push out the window beside us and exit that way - it was amazing how much effort it took to push the window out.

Then we headed to the single seat dunker. Willy explained where the exit handle was, and told us that the dunker had an air tank and pointed out where the regulator was. If we did have problems, Bryan and Rob would be in the pool and could pop the lid off the dunker to extract us. Then the ramp and dunker were raised, and with a word of warning, released to slide into the pool. Surprisingly, it filled with water pretty slowly. I decided to wait until it was fully submerged before exiting - I had time for 3 or 4 breaths before the water closed in. There was adrenaline rush as I waited, strapped into the seat, and the water closed over my head. But I did what we'd been taught - hand along leg, up to the door handle, open and push the door away. Then with one hand firmly grasping the frame (for positional awareness), I opened the seatbelt and pulled myself out. When I popped to the surface, I had a big grin on my face!

The next couple of rides saw the dunker canister flipped, rolled, and put through all sorts of contortions. As long as I followed the drill, I had no problem and didn't even realize they were rolling the dunker.

The last simulator was a two seater side-by-side with doors on either side. I was beginning to feel a little cocky and the first dunk in this was a bit of a shock. Willy warned us that as soon as we hit the water, we'd get the impact right in the face and be upside down before we knew it. His suggestion was to take a deep breath on the way down. The funny thing, though, was I never felt us go upside down. After about a second's delay (it felt much longer), the training kicked in and it was the same drill: door, hand on frame, open the belt, and exit. Only this time, the seatbelt was harder to open because my weight was hanging on it. Still, I had a big grin when I broke the surface.

On subsequent ditchings, we practiced exiting different exits, and had a chance rescuing a passenger - he got to breathe with the scuba tank when I exited and went up to get air, then went back down for him. I had spike of adrenaline on another dunk when I went to open my door and it wouldn't open! There was a second or so when my mind went "ACK!!!!" but I caught myself and just went out the other door. I came the surface glaring at Willy, who just grinned innocently.

All too soon it was 4:00pm and time to call it a day. Was it worth it? You bet! Not only did we get "book learning", but we actually practiced getting out of something very much like an aircraft cabin, underwater, and usually upside down - the water and exiting the plane don't really bother me any more. I found out that if something goes wrong, like a door is jammed, don't freak out - just go out the other door, or out the window. Panic is your enemy.

Who should take the course? Anyone that flies or rides in a plane over water should consider this training. We owe it to ourselves and to our passengers to prepare for situations we may reasonably encounter. While I hope I never have to ditch, I know that what I learned and practiced will greatly increase the odds that both myself and my passengers will get out alive. So think what you would do, and then go take the course.

For more information, check out Aviation Egress Systems' website at

Aviation Egress Systems

Victoria, BC, Canada
Phone: (250) 704-6401
Booking Hotline: (250) 704-6403

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