Experience at SSTL by Patrick Potter

A recent Aircraft Ditching Course trainee wrote a newsletter about his experience at SSTL. Many thanks to Patrick Potter for sharing.

Aircraft Ditching Course – Patrick Potter

On May 29, Dustin Whalen, Angus Robertson, Robbie Bennett and I took part in Survival Systems one-day Aircraft Ditching Course for rotary wing aircraft. We spent the morning in a classroom going over the various types of aircraft, suits, gear, the procedure to follow in case of ditching and accounts of previous incidents.

Though the classroom material was relevant, the afternoon is when things got “interesting”. Following a light lunch at the local Tim’s we all donned our swimming trunks and suited up for some time in the pool where we would apply the lessons from the morning. In the pool, our classroom instructor, John Stone, was joined by Nick, a young diver; their job was to keep an eye on us while we went through different scenarios, and to step in if we needed some help. A young woman named Tracy operated the hoist
that raised and lowered the helicopter mock-up and also controlled the orientation of the cockpit (many of our simulations had us inverted underwater). Meanwhile, divers Eric and Rob were lurking at the bottom of the pool to retrieve the doors and windows that we ejected from the simulator during the trials. We all took turns at each exit, becoming familiar with the designs of the different types of helicopter. The instructors performed several half rolls to simulate ditching in shallow water where one side of the chopper would be blocked to exit, very applicable to coastal work We practiced other skills such as launching a life-raft in dark
and windy conditions and moving through the aircraft to reach an exit while underwater in various orientations.

I lost count of how many times we ditched; I think it was between eight and ten. Though I could never get used to someone yelling “Ditching! Ditching! Ditching!” (nor would I want to), I know the repetition helps to achieve the muscle memory necessary to launch into action as soon as possible and egress the aircraft in the event of such an incident.

Having successfully completed the course, I understand how important this training is; as one pilot who had survived ditching his aircraft stated: “if it wasn’t for the training, I’d be done in the first 5 seconds”. It is through repeated training, subsequent visualization and presence of mind while in flight that chances of surviving ditching are maximized. Many thanks go to John, Nick, and the other Survival Systems support staff for a day full of learning and excitement and also to management who supported the training.

This was definitely not “just another day at the office“.

PatrickAircraft Ditching Course trainee

Page 1 Below the Waterline – GSC-A Staff Newsletter – December 2013 Page 15 Below the Waterline – GSC-A Staff Newsletter – June 2014
Photo source: Survival Systems https://www.sstl.com/