Could you get out after an emergency water landing?

I remember watching the television coverage of the U.S. Air probable emergency ditching in the Hudson River this afternoon . I just recently completed my Helicopter Underwater Egress Training and I got thinking just how bad it would have been for those passengers had the aircraft not remained intact upon landing.
Passengers were seen quickly exiting the over wing exits and that was encouraging. The other exits were opened a bit later it appears and most people had their life jackets on .
Most of us have flown commercially and the safety briefing about exits and the use of life jackets is a pretty routine spiel right?
I’ll give the answers to the following questions at the end of the blog.
Questions:
1. So tell me this? How do you identify the front of the life jacket from the back so that you can put it on correctly?
2. Do you actually know how to open the emergency exit that you are sitting beside and is there a situation for which you would refuse to open the door?
3. You are in aisle seat and the nearest exit door is behind you two rows on your right. Upon landing the plane flips over.What direction would you go in the dark to find that exit?
4. You have landed in the water the exit door near you is open and the water is coming in fairly quickly.The aircraft is sinking. At what point do you take and hold a breath?
5. The emergency exit lighting will illuminate the direction to the emergency exits. Where is the lighting located?
6. Aircraft slides can detach from the aircraft to form a life raft. How will they detach if there is not a crew member to do that procedure?
7. The safety briefing advises not to exit head first, down the safety slide but should you jump out onto the slide or sit down and slide so you don’t hit the ground or water so fast?
8. Finally, your nearest exit may be behind you. Ok, where is the next nearest exit and how many rows is it in front of, or behind you.

Our HUET (helicopter underwater egress training) had us landing in the water flipping upside down and getting out blind folded. Would I have been able to accomplish this emergency exit in the dark waters of the Hudson? What if I was talking or reading instead of looking at the emergency exits and instructions ,when the flight attendants or monitors were doing the briefing. I don’t like my chances.
Our primary instructor on the HUET training says that he always tries for the emergency row seating or as close as possible and in that case when seated in the aircraft ,determines just who he is going to have get by through or over to get to the exit door and open it.
I don’t think he believes most people will get the exit door open on their own.
In the case of this recent U.S. Air ditching I am fairly certain we will find that the crew opened the doors and controlled the exit procedures.

The Answers and feel free to disagree or suggest alternatives.

1.There is no front or back to an airline supplied life jacket. That is not mentioned in the briefing so don’t waste time, put it on and just like they say do NOT inflate the vest inside, when the water comes in you will be stuck on top in your inflated vest. Dead.
2. People are screaming for you to open the exit door beside you after the crash. There is a fire out on the wing that you can see and they can’t . Get moving to the NEXT exit and shout your reason telling anyone within earshot that opening that door with the flames behind it will kill everyone nearby. Move it
3. The exit is two rows behind you on the right. Several people in our class thought that being upside down put the exit on the opposite side. Nope, same place, its just that you are upside down. Think about where you are going before you release that seat belt.
4. Take a breath when the water hits your legs. Many people choose to wait, like you see in the movies but as I have seen its best to grab that air when you know you can. People who wait are often surprised when the water shoots up into their face and all of a sudden they are under without a breath.
5. Lighting is not always on the floor,sometimes the lighting is on the seat side bottoms. Check it out,you’ll see that even some flight attendants refer to emergency floor lighting when its actually on the seats.
6.Slides and slide/rafts can be detached from the girt bar, usually by a two or three step procedures. This may, for example, involve lifting up the flap on the girt bar, and pulling the detach handle. These procedures are usually placarded red on the slide, “For Ditching Use Only”. Once the slide is separated, the slide remains attached to the aircraft by a mooring line. The mooring line will break if the airframe submerges, or can be disconnected with a pre-supplied knife or disconnect handle.( the knife is in the survival bag)
7. Experts say that the aircraft can be emptied 50% faster by jumping on the slide. OK. Wheee!
8.Think of your secondary exit and how far away it is . Counting the rows to the exit may be what gets you there to open it in the dark or the smoke or when your fellow passengers are just clogging the aisle.

I know this wasn’t the cheeriest of blogs but anyone who knows me also knows that I hope for the best but plan for the worst.

And…sure enough the worst or close to it happened, just the other day. here is how it went.

I was in the non flying pilots seat when our aircraft plunged into a muddy lake.
The three of us utilized our HUET training effectively. After hitting, spinning and striking the water violently with the blades, we inverted and sunk to the bottom of a murky lake. A root wad (tree stump) on the bottom of the lake entered through the front window and the pilots door was jammed shut. Water entered quickly since my door/ window on the right hand copilots side had been knocked off at impact I was to find out. 
The pilot had water over him quickly and it was probably a second or two later for me. The crew chief in the back was seated higher and he got a breath unfastened and stood up into an air pocket.The visibility under the water was minimal and I located my seat belt latch and then searched for the door handle for some time, frustrated that I was not locating it after what seemed like a long time. I felt the edge of the outside of the fuselage and the realization that there was no door or handle sunk in quickly. Unlatching my seat belt inverted with my hand grabbing the door frame allowed me to pull myself outside and up to the surface. The cockpit was not yet fully submerged and seeing nobody else outside I looked in an saw a hand and life vest. I pulled the pilot outside with me and asked where our crew chief was?
I had heard him call my name at some point. Winded and injured I had to do a second or two of soul searching looking down into the dark brown jet fuel soaked water. About that time the crew chief came out the back door window and we were all on the sinking inverted cockpit. We gave a thumbs up to a helicopter hovering over head inflated our life vests and swam away from the wreckage as it sank into the water and muck. All of us if I can speak for us are certain that the HUET training is what got us out. A friend who was in the helicopter overhead said “it took you an eternity to get out.” Yes but we got out!
I know the PIC told me he spent too much time on his door and had not got a good breath and was wondering about  the result.
We all did what were trained to do by our instructors and I am certain that it allowed me to remain rational and do what needed to be done.

About Heligypsy

Has it really been forty three years flying helicopters all over the world? I guess its time to share some stories, I hope you enjoy my adventures.
This entry was posted in Flying Stories, Helicopter Pilot, Random rantings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Could you get out after an emergency water landing?

  1. Maria says:

    I am so freaked out by the very IDEA of a water landing that I couldn’t even READ your entire post. I’ve seen footage of HUET exercises and I know I’d be dead if I ever ditched — especially if the doors were on. I have a slightly unreasonable fear of water because of a near drowning I experienced; fears like that are hard to shake or even reason away.

    I live in the desert and do very little over-water flying. I have begun doing quite a bit of flying around Lake Powell and am constantly aware of my distance to shoreline. Even though a tour style photo flight is always within gliding distance of land, I show my passengers how to put on the helicopter-specific life jackets I provide. (The kind you wear around your waist.) For serious photo flights, when my passengers’ hands are full of equipment and doors are off and I’m more likely to be out of glide distance from land, I make passengers wear those life jackets. I wear an inflatable flotation collar on all of my Lake Powell flights. I look dorky, but I don’t care. I don’t want to drown.

    On commercial flights, I’m always cognizant of the two closest emergency exists — forward and behind me — and where the life jacket resides. If I’m sitting in the exit row, I read the door instructions both on the door itself and on the safety card. I’ve seen footage of cockpits burning and I don’t want to be stuck inside a flaming aircraft. It worries me that when I’m not in an exit row, the people who are might not take their job seriously enough if they need to take action. Their non-action can kill others — like me!

    The people on US Airways Flight 1546 are so incredibly lucky. If the plane had broken up or flipped or if they’d landed in rough water, there most certainly would have been major injuries and deaths. I think the pilot deserves every bit of praise he’s getting. Even though he just reacted as he was trained to, his execution of the actions that brought the plane down in one piece in the river is a testament to his skill and ability to keep cool under pressure.

    I hope I never have to ditch an aircraft. But if I do, I hope I can do it as well as he did.

    And I hope my doors are off and we all have our lifejackets on.

  2. We wear life vests and a PPIRB .We used to wear a breathing bottle but stopped when the company realized that we had no training and we were having trouble getting them filled overseas.

  3. coffee says:

    I’m glad no one was hurt in the crash, sounds like the pilot did a great job

  4. Dale Long says:

    Thanks for sharing excellent information with the correct attitude. The course you took sounds excellent.

    Agree: The landing in the Hudson turned out well because the plane stayed intact and upright. KUDOS to the deadstick landing technique. Sully was able to gauge height above water from excellent horizon (buildings) on to both sides of the river. It would have been more difficult in open water with no horizon. His glider skills helped too, it would seem.

    I flew a twin (Navajo Chieftain) across the North Atlantic – had no problems, however, I was glad to find a course beforehand. All went well thankfully.

    Ditching rotocraft would give me a lot more concern.

  5. Pingback: Interesting Links, January 2009 | An Eclectic Mind

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