Originally published February 10th, 2004.
The helo dunker
Filed under Uncategorized
I can’t think of anything more terrifying than to be blindfolded, under water in an unusual attitude – even in an actual crash you’d have a light in the cabin to get some bearings wouldn’t you?
I remember during my diving years – I had a night dive in the Great Barrier Reef – besides the guide/divemaster shining a light into one of these holes in the coral – seeing a little pufferfish maybe 2″ long that would kill you in minutes with its toxin – (with his cross hand signals “don’t touch”) the one thing we learned during night dives is to “follow the bubbles” – blindfolded how would you even know what is “up”?
Lex’s writing puts you right there….
I rode the dunker when qualifying to ride the MH-53s. To this day the training was some of the most effective training I ever received. To this day, upon entering any aircraft I count seats, ceiling panels, window frames, etc to the nearest two exits.
I was teaching Survival Swimming at P’cola when the first Helo Dunker came on line. As an instructor I had many, many drops. My most memorable was when the Coast Guard came to town. At the time P’cola had the only dunker. The Coasties were there to produce a training film to demonstrate to their pilots/aircrew procedurately how to egress until more dunkers came online. After filming the standard training drops, they wanted to add a dry survival suit to the mix. This increased the difficulty level quite a bit. We did only two drops. On the first I , in the pilot seat, was to exit out the closest available exit which was the window to my left. No problem. For the second, I had to wait until the cabin filled, turned inverted and exit out the main cabin door. Once I unbuckled the seatbelt, the buoyancy of the suit wanted to take me to the surface. But, being contained in the ‘barrel’ of the dunker the suit was trying to take me to what used to be the deck. That was when the value of the training took over. Never, never let go of the helo. As long as you had a grasp you knew where you were. If you let go, to the top/bottom you went and completely disoriented as the suit pressed you to the deck. The only way out was to hand over hand pull myself to the main cabin hatch. This was as simple as it sounds. For to get there I first had to pull myself down in order to get out, all the time the suit pulling against me. Needless to say I got out. I never saw the finished training film but I was told it aided several pilots/aircrew when put in a survival situation.
I wonder – had you let go of the drum – probably would have been all over if not for the rescue divers. I have heard as CT II Raven mentioned – whenever in a plane count the rows to the nearest exit – lots of people die when the plane in on fire, on the ground, but the smoke prevents you from seeing anything …and if you panic – it is all over. Remember too in an airline it is likely you will be surrounded by panicked people so you have that against you.
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