HUET : learning how to survive an aircraft ditching

HUET = Helicopter Underwater Escape Training

I took my refresher course recently and wanted to share the experience with my readers! For all those working aeromedical and HEMS, this is considered gold standard safety training. I mainly work in a fixed wing aircraft but on occasion have to get in a chopper..its a long convoluted story for me that I maybe bore you with some day. Retrieval docs like Cliff Reid and Karel Habig in Sydney, this is routine stuff as they work on fixed wing, helicopters ( of different types no less!) and road ambulances.

HUET training in Australia is essentially run by only a few companies. The one we use, is run by Careflight Medical Group, their training arm. They teach the Australian Defence Forces too, no less.

The one day course starts with class room lecture which shows you lots of videos of how you can die if your helicopter crashes into water. They try to make it relevant to us Fixed wing flyers too. Suffice to say if your aircraft ditches into water, ocean, lake , dam etc, you are having a bad day and the course is all about making that a survivable day at least!

Next stage, you go to a swimming pool where they have a ditching simulator rigged up. The one they use is mounted on a crane. Check it out here

You get a safety briefing and they have two safety divers in the water along with two instructors. You have to demonstrate several techniques in the simulator, initially with open eyes but then with blindfolds simulating a night ditching or poor visibility water. Those who have done it before often do the whole thing with eyes closed.

The techniques are essentially of bracing for the impact of the ditch, locking and locating yourself within your seat after immersion, locating the nearest exit, clearing the exit of obstructions, releasing your safety restraints, safely exiting the immersed simulator.

Sound easy? Sure thing..then they flip the simulator on its roof and immerse you in water at same time to simulate disorientation underwater. It gets harder now as water will always enter your nose and sinuses. Its difficult in some to control anxiety and some panic at this stage. Watch this video I took to see what I am talking about the immersion and simulator rotation

After you pass the simulator, you move onto survival at sea skills, like flotation vests and life rafts.

Hopefully you survive the whole day and get a certificate that lasts for 2 years then you do it all over again. There are advanced sections to take such as the EBA or emergency breathing apparatus technique but thats optional and depends if you want to purchase and carry such an apparatus . If you fly over water a lot, it makes sense to!

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I recommend this training to anyone involved in emergency and prehospital care even if you do not normally fly in helicopters or aircraft. It teaches you about yourself and your ability to focus in a crisis and keep your wits about you. The sensation of drowning is primal and so is the fear. This training conducted in a supervised and controlled manner allows you to prepare for and manage that fear. Its like training for surgical airway blindfolded as Scott Weingart has described on his blog. Train the skill, control the anxiety and panic, succeed in varying conditions.

Minh

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