View Full Version : Pilots, aircrew dive into water survival

05-15-04, 06:15 AM
Pilots, aircrew dive into water survival
Submitted by: MCAS Miramar
Story Identification #: 200451317368
Story by Lance Cpl. Skye Jones

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. (May 13, 2004) -- It was approaching midnight and all was calm over the waters. The ship sailed smoothly into the unruffled night. Suddenly, "Iceberg, right ahead!" The engines stopped while the crew waited for the inevitable doom - water gashed through and slowly filled the ship up.

The Titanic was a mammoth ship that sunk to the pits of the ocean and few souls survived that fateful crash.

Jets, helicopters and other aircraft can descend to the bed of the ocean, just like the Titanic did. To prepare Marines and Sailors for a possible ill-fated event, the Aviation Survival Training Center puts pilots through realistic scenarios that just might save their lives one day.

"This is considered high-risk training. Pilots must have a medical screening beforehand to ensure that they are able to complete the course safely," said Petty Officer 1st Class Marcus A. Dingle, instructor and Aviation Life Support Systems technician.

"We give the students the core training that they need to be safely rescued," continued the Hempstead, N.Y., native.

The center tailors each of their classes to the specific aircraft that a pilot flies. For example, the class for F/A-18 pilots must undergo parachute training. They must learn how to prevent any mishap that may occur if the parachute malfunctions. On the other hand, helicopter pilots do not need to go through that phase of training due to the nature of their aircraft.

Approximately 20 helicopter pilots and aircrew were part of the most recent class to undergo aviation survival training.

These courses are about as close as you can get to a real situation while still being safe, said Petty Officer 1st Class James F. Lackowski, safety diver and Naval Aviation Water Survival Instructor.

"Marines and Sailors need to know how to use their gear, especially with the frequency they fly over water. They need these skills," continued the Chicago native.

After two hours of classroom instruction, the students put their skills to use in the training pool. The pilots swam across the pool using the survival breast, side and backstroke. They also had to do an underwater swim.

After successfully completing all strokes, the motivated Marines and Sailors dressed up in their full flight gear, which consisted of their flight suit, boots, helmet, survival vest and low profile flotation collar to begin the real training.

"The training is awesome," mentioned Pittsburgh native Staff Sgt. James McGuinness, CH-46E standard evaluator, Marine Medium Helicopter Training Squadron 164. "It helps us think about what could really happen."

The first training exercise that the pilots underwent put the Marines and Sailors through a simulated crash in the pool. After each pilot sat down and fastened their seatbelt, an instructor would turn the seat over, and the pilot would have to escape the simulated aircraft.

"It's a little disorienting at first, I was nervous," explained Petty Officer 2nd Class Maxwell E. Bjerke, aviation warfare systems operator. "But if you listen to the instructors, they really do a good job of telling you what you need to know," continued the San Diego native.

The next phase of training teaches the Marines and Sailors how to properly use the Helicopter Apparatus Breathing Device bottles.

"They are like mini scuba bottles. They train the pilots how to breathe under water," said Dingle.

The Marines and Sailors held the HABD bottles against their mouths and the instructors dunked them upside down in the water.

"This exercise was designed to build the pilots' confidence in the water," said Dingle.

In the next training exercise, the pilots not only had to have confidence in themselves but in each other as well. The servicemembers were then put into a realistic storm scenario.

The pilots had to climb into a life raft after inflating it, undergo a series of mishaps, before a crane rescued them.

This is close to an actual situation, and there weather machines to add to the simulation, explained Dingle.

After completing each exercise the Marines and Sailors must go to the dunker tank, which simulates a helicopter crash.

The pilots get into a replica aircraft, which is released into the tank. After being submerged into the water they must escape, completing their training.

"This training is vital," said Lackowski. "Pilots attest to this training saving their lives."


Pilots and aircrew from the Navy and Marine Corps undergo hours of vigorous training in the water at the Aviation Survival Training Center here. The courses simulate real time mishaps while in a safe environment. Photo by: Lance Cpl. Skye Jones