COMPANIES KNOWN TO PROVIDE SURVIVAL TRAINING USING A 'DUNKER'
256 Bridge Road
Hants SO31 7FL
Tel: 01489 581755
Fax: 01489 575223
Fleetwood Offshore Survival Centre
Lancashire FY7 8JZ.
If you are going to fly in helicopters over the sea or any expanse of water, please take time to read this.
Both UK and USA statistics indicate that 88% of controlled ditchings are successful but, approximately 50% of survivors die after safely exiting the aircraft, but before rescue arrives.
Commercial helicopter pilots undertake Helicopter Underwater Escape Training (HUET). It takes 5 hours of theoretical and practical water training (and is horrible to do).
However to avoid over alarming passengers pilots are normally reluctant to brief too extensively on ditching risks and only cover the minimum legalities required. In reality the minutes before a shoot are not ideal, as with the usual hurry up, you have many other things to worry about.
Flight Logistics take the view that we are all grown ups and a little preparation and knowledge will dramatically increase your chances of successful survival therefore has anybody briefed you:
·That if you exit too soon from a sinking helicopter you will probably put yourself through a 36 ft bacon slicer i.e. the rotor blades ?
·Or the coastal waters around the UK rarely reach 20 degrees C but if you lose 5 degrees C you're
unconscious, 7 degrees C you die.
·Or wearing a woolly hat dramatically prolongs your survival time
·To carry a safety knife in case you get tangled in filming cables.
So please read this briefing document fully. If you are frequently filming from helicopters we recommend
that you attend a HUET course.
This information has been compiled for your benefit but we sincerely hope you never, ever, have to use it!
The principal cause of death after ditching is by drowning, usually brought on by hypothermia. It is thus essential to consider the reason for this and how the risks may be minimised.
In many cases, the deceased persons were found to have no lifejacket, neither worn nor available to them. It is vital TO WEAR, a suitable lifejacket whilst flying over water.
Selection of the correct type of lifejacket is most important, since there are many different types and patterns available. Some so called lifejackets are little more than 'buoyancy aids' which are used by the leisure boating community and have a permanent buoyancy of approximately 15lbs. This lifejacket is
purely an aid to buoyancy, it will not keep an unconscious person afloat. Worse still, the inherent buoyancy may prevent a person from swimming down to escape, for instance, from an inverted helicopter.
FLYING OVER WATER ?
Automatic lifejackets, found among the yachting community, are activated by a soluble tablet which, when
it gets wet, inflates the lifejacket instantly. These are unsuitable for general aviation usage as they will inflate inside a water filled cabin, seriously hindering escape.
It can be "topped up" using the oral inflation tube provided. On the more sophisticated jacket types a search and rescue beacon may be found, which when switched on sends out a continuous distress signal on a suitable radio frequency to a satellite relay.
Important additions to lifejacket attachments are the spray visors, which in many cases have been installed. This device provides protection to the airway from wave slap and accidental inhalation of water, which is especially likely during initial immersion in cold water, where rapid rises in breathing rates may be experienced.
These visors are located behind the wearer's head and are deployed soon after initial water entry. This is done by rolling the visor over the wearer's face, the bottom end being attached to the base of the lifejacket by an elastic band. These lifejackets should NOT be inflated inside the aircraft.
Hypothermia is defined as lowered deep body temperature. In cold water, the skin and peripheral tissues cool very rapidly, but it is 10 to 15 minutes before the temperature of the heart and brain begin to decrease.
Incessant shivering occurs in a body's attempt to increase its heat production and counteract the large heat loss. Decreasing consciousness, mental confusion and the loss of the will to live occur when the deep body temperature falls from the normal 37 degrees C to about 32 degrees C. This makes drowning much more likely. Heart failure is the usual cause of death when deep body temperature falls below 30 degrees C.
Survival times for persons in cold water will vary greatly depending on the individual's build and metabolism.
If, for any reason, a life-raft is not available, the survival time in cold water can be significantly increased by the use of suitable protective clothing.
If an immersion suit is not worn, then as a general statement, the more layers of clothes that are worn on entry into cold water, the longer will be the survival time; this will vary considerably depending on the type
of clothing and the amount being worn.
Whilst many may feel that this level of protection is extreme for coastal flying, there have been cases
where lives have been saved by the wearing of such clothing. A leakproof immersion suit can increase survival times by a factor varying from 3 times to 10 times depending on the insulating qualities of the garments worn underneath.
Helicopter Immersion Suits
The zigzag rope around the helicopter on the left is not to finish it off nicely but to give you something to hold onto when it turns upside down in the North Sea!
Among the requirements are that they must hold the mouth and nose of an unconscious man clear of the water and be able to right him from a face down position in not more that 5 seconds. They should also
allow the wearer to jump from a height of 4.5m into the water without damage to the lifejacket.
Aviation lifejackets do not contain buoyant material and rely on an inflation system to provide the
buoyancy. Each lifejacket is fitted with a light source operational for 12 hours. A whistle is for attracting attention. This lifejacket is inflated by a sharp tug on the inflation toggle, which causes the release of
CO2, so inflating the jacket.
Therefore, if time permits put on as much clothing as possible, including headwear, since a very large proportion of body heat escapes through the head. Wet wool retains 50% of its insulating properties, whereas wet cotton retains only 10%. Wetsuits could also be given consideration.
The most effective and the one which can prolong life and keep hypothermia at bay for the longest time, is the use of an immersion suit.
Immersion suits are one-piece protective garments designed to provide the wearer with protection in cold water, where individuals are at risk from losing excessive quantities of heat.
There are many types of helicopter survival suit made of a variety of materials covering the wearer from head to foot, in most cases utilising a long waterproof sliding fastener to close down the garment. These suits are donned before boarding the aircraft only being removed when safely onboard or back on dry land.
Generally, the thermal efficiency of any helicopter suit depends on the wearer's clothing worn underneath it. However, in some helicopter suits inherent insulation within the suit is provided.
In those that it is not, the wearer must be aware that the suit alone will not provide all the necessary insulation and clothing must be worn under the suit to improve its performance in cold water. In this respect, several layers of clothing worn under the suit provide superior protection against the cold than one or two thick layers.
Many types of survival suit are available for use and the donning procedure will vary from suit to suit. Some have neck seals, gloves, built-in boots etc. and it is VITAL that the wearer familiarise himself .
For filming it is essential that you use the neck seal aircrew type rather than the hood type if you want to use headphones. The seal on hood type suits is formed around the face, with the hood down, the suit fills with water which does two things; it negates the thermal value of the suit and makes you too heavy to rescue by helicopter winch!
Regardless of suit type, however, several checks must be made prior to donning. Make sure:
1.The suit is in good working order.
2.The size of the suit is appropriate.
3.Any seals present are intact.
4.All zips operate freely from top to bottom.
5.All survival aids are present (eg. Whistles, light, gloves, etc)
6.There is no damage to the suit that would reduce its effectiveness (eg. Rips, tears, etc).
The body zip must be fully deployed to reduce the possibility of water entry, as even small amounts of water within the suit significantly reduce the insulation provided, with a resultant increase in body heat loss. If a hood or gloves are provided these must be used from the outset as the head and hands are two areas of the body with high levels of heat loss.
Although these suits are designed for use in water it must be remembered that individuals must attempt to remain as DRY as possible at all times. Once in the water it is important to remain as still as practicable to reduce the possibility of further water ingress unless swimming toward or boarding a survival craft.
Before boarding the helicopter, you ensure you are fully briefed. Ask questions ( in case of pilot incapacitation):
On the location of the life-raft.
On the order in which people should vacate the aircraft in the event of a ditching and who will be responsible for taking the life-raft with them.
That the lifejackets should not be inflated until clear of the aircraft and 'jerk the toggle' to activate the cylinder of gas.
To remove glasses, headsets and free yourself of film cables prior to leaving the aircraft.
That prior to touchdown on the water, to tighten seat straps/harnesses and just prior to impact, passengers should assume a braced position (as appropriate).
Note the 'reference points' on the aircraft's internal structure that they should reach for when exiting the aircraft and any features which might impede exit.
Many pilots carry a hand-held VHF radio with them on such flights; it is good practice to keep this in a sealed plastic bag in order to keep it dry, learn how to turn it on and transmit. Have it set on 121.5 MHz and ensure its turned off.
Helicopter Exit Procedure
If the helicopter is not fitted with floats it will sink immediately and / or probably capsize. This is a typical unexpected accident filming over a lake or reservoir where floats, life jackets and a briefing were not thought to be required, (happened in Wales 2 out of 3 drowned ).
Do not exit until told to do so
Do not exit if the rotor is turning ( pilots make mistakes )
1.Locate the nearest exit. Jettison or open the door and hold on tight
2.Place your other hand on your seat belt buckle, do not release
3.Wait for the helicopter to all but fully fill with water
4.Take a deep breath
5.Release your buckle, you will immediately float
6.Use your grip on the exit and pull yourself out
7.Don't swim, you increase your chance of becoming entangled
8.If necessary observe the air bubbles as to which way is up
Note you may become disorientated if the helicopter is rolling. As it sinks keep a tight grip on your exit, this is your lifeline.
Try whilst the aircraft fills, to keep calm and concentrate on how you are going to get out.
Helicopter windows are strong plastic, normally held in by rubber beading. Don't try to smash them, kick them out with your feet.
Ditching with a life-craft (and floats)
Before inflating the life-raft, someone should tie it on to himself/herself so that it doesn't blow away. Do NOT attach it to the helicopter. The life-jacket harness or belt would be a good attachment point. If possible inflate the life-raft on the downwind side of the aircraft so that it is not blown against it and damaged. If you are still standing on the wing, it will be fairly easy to turn the life-raft upright if necessary.
Should the life-raft need to be turned upright, get downwind of it and rotate it so that the inflation cylinder is towards you. The weight of the cylinder and the wind will help turn it over.
Climb into the life-raft and carry out a 'head count'. If anyone is in the water and injured or cannot climb aboard, get his/her back towards the entrance, then two people should hold the person under his/her armpits, (not by the arms), while any others balance the life-raft by sitting at the far end. Push the person initially down into the water, then give a good pull as the buoyancy from the lifejacket pushes the person back up again.
Once everyone is aboard the life-raft, inflate the cover if fitted - protection being the most important element of survival. Get all the water out using the bailer and mop up with a sponge or spare item of clothing. Trail the sea anchor as soon as possible and if necessary, fully inflate the buoyancy chambers (and floor). These should be firm, but not rock hard.
Ensure that at least one person is tied to the life-raft just in case a large wave should overturn it, then at least one person will be able to get back into it and assist others.
To avoid vomiting, ensure that everyone takes a sea sickness pill straight away - do not wait until the onset of sickness. The smell of rubber inside the life-raft and the loss of visual references will all increase the risk of sickness. (Vomiting causes fluid loss from the body). These sea sickness pills will normally be found in the equipment pouch inside the life-raft. In any event, NEVER drink sea water.
Once the cover is up, you will soon be warm and dry out. Wring out your clothes as much as possible and if you have anything suitable, insulate the floor.
Even on a warm day, keep the cover up to provide protection from the sun.
Treat any injuries and administer appropriate first aid. It will have been a traumatic experience, some survivors may be suffering from shock. Assuming that you still have the hand-held radio available in the waterproof bag, now is the time to make sure it is on and working. Listen out on 121.5 MHz and this will also confirm that your Personal Locator beacon (PLB) is working.
Use any other signalling equipment which might be available; however, do read the instructions first and check, then check again, before using any pyrotechnics since some are double-ended. (It would be disastrous if you thought you were about to set off a smoke signal only to discover a white hot magnesium flare burning inside the life-raft).
Take turns to keep watch and only use flares when you are sure somebody will see them, not, for instance, as a search aircraft is flying away from you. Flares should be held at arms length, outside and pointing away from the life-raft as they often drop hot deposits. If you have any gloves or other protection, wear them when operating a flare. Sweep the horizon with the heliograph, (mirror), at any time when the sun is shining. Any marker dye will normally last around 3 hours in the vicinity of the life-raft, so make an intelligent guess as to when to use it.
Ditching No Life-raft. With floats.
If you do not have a life-raft, but have to enter the water directly wearing your lifejacket, then this is a much more life-threatening situation.
If the sea temperature is cold - British waters are always cold, seldom reaching 20 degrees C even in summer, and you are not wearing an immersion suit; then it is ESSENTIAL that you and any other survivors adopt the following measures immediately in order to conserve body heat.
The cold will cause you to lose the use of your hands very quickly. So perform any manual tasks straightaway while you are still able.
Ideally tie the PLB onto the lifejacket, with a long enough length of string for it to be able to float alongside you. Failing that, tuck it into the neck of the lifejacket.
Do not swim in an attempt to keep warm. The heat generated will be lost to the cold water due to more blood circulation in the arms, legs and skin and increased water flow through the clothing.
Generally, don't attempt to swim to the shore unless the distance is less than 1 km and you are a strong swimmer.
The most important consideration must be to reduce heat loss. The most critical areas of the body for heat loss are the head, sides of the chest and the groin region. Cover your head with the lifejacket's spray hood.
A lone survivor should adopt the 'HELP' position (this is the Heat Escaping Lessening Posture). The use of this position will significantly increase survival times.
Hold the inner sides of your arms in contact with the side of the chest. Hold your thighs together and raise slightly to close off the groin region.
Should there be a group of survivors, then huddle together with the sides of your chests and lower bodies pressed together. If there are children present, sandwich them within the middle of the group for extra protection. If possible, tie everybody together.
Do not give up hope. The will to survive is a powerful force to prolong life.
A single floating person is very difficult to see from the air. When a search aircraft is close enough to be able to see you, signal using your heliograph (mirror). If this is not available, the light reflected from splashing water with your arms may be enough to attract attention.
To attract the attention of people in small boats, use the whistle attached to the jacket; shouting is much less effective and more exhausting to the survivor.
Ditching No Life Jacket With Floats
If the helicopter is still floating it provides a bigger target for the rescue services. Try to hold on, do not
attach yourself to the floats but be prepared for the helicopter to suddenly roll or sink. You are in extreme
danger but have limited options. As shown by the previous text you are not well placed!
Ditching No Life Jacket No Floats
As shown by the previous text you are not well placed ! Still be optomistic.
Adopt the HELP position; either way, rescued or not, you will not have long to wait.
After ditching, the normal procedure is for liferaft(s) to be launched and boarded under the control of the helicopter pilot. Passenger action can be summarised as follows:
a)Remain seated with seat belt fastened.
b)Be prepared for the helicopter to capsize (although this may not happen).
c)Observe the pilot carry out launching drills.
d)Move to board liferaft when instructed.
e)Inflate lifejacket on LEAVING helicopter.
f)Assist others in liferaft.
Non-amphibious helicopters carry floats, which are inflated on ditching to give time for raft(s) to be launched. It is NOT RECOMMENDED to stay in these helicopters as the floats may puncture.
In rough seas, the helicopter may capsize in a relatively short time. Passengers must be prepared for this by remaining secured in their seats until capsize is completed, then release harness and effect escape. Do not inflate lifejackets inside the aircraft.
Having survived the initial emergency situation, the final stage of rescue itself can prove hazardous if the person to be rescued is unaware of techniques and procedures and in attempting to help, may actually hinder operations.
When help arrives, whether it is a boat or helicopter, stop signalling and wait for instructions from the rescuer. DO NOT attempt to stand up in the life-raft. DO NOT try doing things on your own initiative.
In most cases, the rescue services will knife the life-raft after rescuing you and let it sink. It is neither practical nor safe to try to recover it into the rescue vessel and leaving it afloat at sea may result in a false alarm.
Rescue can be in many different forms, each method does, however, present its own problems.
Rescue from the Air
a) Single lift: this method involves the helicopter lowering a strop only. It is up to the person to be
winched to put the strop on correctly.
b) Hi-line transfer: a winchman will be lowered into the liferaft or survival craft and remains there
while the persons to be rescued are winched aboard the helicopter. The winchman guides the
strop by the use of a line to ensure fast and efficient recovery of a number of persons.
c) Double lift: the winchman is lowered along with a strop. On reaching the person to be rescued,
he will place the strop around the survivor and then accompany that person back to the helicopter.
In any rescue by helicopter, certain safety points must be adhered to.
1) Anything lowered from a helicopter will have a static electrical charge. It is important to allow this charge to run to earth before any attempt is made to touch whatever is being lowered, be it a strop
or a winchman. The static build-up can be quite significant and if the person to be rescued is in a
weakened state due to injury or exposure, the electrical shock received may have adverse
To prevent this, the winch operator will ensure that the strop or winchman via his earthing wire
touches the water before any contact is made.
2) Ensure the lifting strop is worn correctly, that it is clear of any back panel of a lifejacket and once
round the body it is taken as far as possible up under the arms. This is important, as the initial lift
can be quite sudden and if the strop is around the small of the back, damage to the spine is
3) During the ascent, keep arms by your side. If necessary, it is possible to ease the weight off the
chest by grasping the strop. To ensure greater safety, have the strop secured as tightly as
possible, and never raise the arms above head level. This happened to a Canadian cameraman
who having been rescued from a sinking trawler, reached up for help as he got up to the helicopter
and slipped out of the strop and fell 80ft. to his death, impaled on the rigging.
At all times do as the helicopter crew ask. They are highly trained and there is good reason for all the actions they ask you to perform.
Rescue by a Surface Vessel or Craft
Rescue from the water by a surface vessel can be hazardous if the person in the water attempts to reach the rescue craft by swimming towards it while that craft makes its approach. The captain or coxswain of the craft will concentrate on bringing his craft to the survivor's position taking into account wind direction and strength, and the sea state. If the person in the water is to move, then the craft's approach line must be altered otherwise the coxswain will either miss the person or run him over. Only approach the craft once it has stopped alongside.
If the pickup is by small craft such as a lifeboat or fast rescue craft, then crewmembers will assist in the recovery by lifting the casualty abroad. However, if the rescue vessel is large, such as a supply ship or rescue/standby vessel the pickup might depend on the survivor climbing onboard using scramble nets or ladders. If this is the case, only grab hold of the rescue equipment while at the top of a swell so that as the water falls away you are free to continue to climb abroad.