It’s been a busy week so I’ve been a bit delayed getting up this post.
Our choppers at the base are extremely well maintained by a whole crew of super experienced staff, but regardless, there remains the possibility that we’ll “ditch” into the water during a flight. Ideally this occurs in a “controlled” manner but it’s possible that it happens suddenly. This unlikely occurrence has been the impetus for the HUET course that’s occurred at the base for the past 20 years. This course really highlights lots of stuff we can be doing in medicine – practicing rarely performed, high-stakes procedures in a simulated setting. The concept is fantastic and what’s great is that not only do we discuss what to do, we actually go out and practice.
We just finished up a really solid day at the base where we completed our Helicopter Underwater Escape Training (HUET) course. There was a combination of flight crewman, pilots, physicians, paramedics and surf rescue guards who all came together for an excellent day of training.
We started off the day with a full review of our lifejackets, seat belts and exit from the chopper.
Then we headed out to the pier where we channelled our inner caveman, got to play with fire and let off a bunch flares (ones usually kept in our life vests). I think there’s a genetic element (left over from the prehsitoric era) that provides us with great satisfaction from setting off fire into the air and watching fireworks launch into the air. Nothing quite like challenging your manhood with “my flare went further than yours”.
We then headed up to the local dive pool to practice our underwater escape plans. The Trust has a great training apparatus – a mini chopper known as the “dunker”! This thing functions as a practice model for escaping as the chopper is flipped upside down. As it was described in our course, we have to wait at least 7 seconds once we hit before we escape. By then all the chopper blades will have stopped and it will be safer to exit. This simulation process helps you gain appreciate for the complete clusterf*#)@ that it would be if the helicopter crashed into the water. While we couldn’t recreate the likely injuries you’d suffer, the gasoline in the water, the inability to see, the hectic ocean swells, we were at least able to go through the motions of our exit plans. When my wife asked, “how was your day?”, I started explaining what we were up to. Judging by her reaction on my training for a possible helicopter crash, it appears that such things are best left on the list “things not to tell your wife”.
We had 4 divers in the water watching us as we got dunked under and to help us escape if we ended up down too long.
Imagine being in a set of rapids, hanging upside down without an idea of which way is up and completely disoriented while not being able to breath. This is exactly what we went through today…except in real life we’d then probably have to get to the surface (some 30-50m away). There’s little around to help you navigate except the simple technique of opening the door first then seat belt (otherwise you can float away and have no idea of your bearings).
This was a fascinating experience that helped emphasize the importance of in-situ training. When experiences are vastly different than what we’re used to, we must engage this environment and practice in a foreign situation.
I’ve included a video of the dunker, so that it can be observed in action! You’ll see the two that were belted in, pop up right at the end of the clip! Another successful escape!