Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Survival Training

Yesterday during training we pilots practiced the use of the survival raft. Despite using it in a YMCA pool - which is so unlike the stormy, dark, choppy water that we'd probably find ourselves using it - it still is good that we get some hands on experience.
There are numerous articles on the internet about "airplane ditching," but here is AOPA's take on it (AOPA is the Airplane Owners and Pilots Association).

Bottom line

... statistics show that most ditchings are successful. By one count, 88 percent of all ditchings were survived. Other statistics show a 92-percent successful egress rate. A recent search of NTSB data from 1983 to 1999 shows that there were 143 ditchings on record, and that only 20 of them involved fatalities. Most of those fatalities happened in open-ocean, cold-water environments.

You hear a lot of lore and yarns about ditchings. Most involve fairly tame outcomes. Many times, an airplane will simply settle nose-low, float long enough for everyone aboard to safely escape, then rescue comes shortly thereafter. Then you hear about the pilot who sat on the wing of his ditched airplane for half an hour, and who never even got wet. Those stories are reassuring.

But don't let the statistics lull you too much. Airplanes over water have disappeared without a trace. Airplanes have skipped, then suddenly plowed under, never to be seen again. In a recent ditching northeast of Maui, Hawaii, a Cessna P210 pilot radioed that he was losing oil pressure and was going to ditch. A U.S. Coast Guard ship was in the area, and an officer reported that the airplane skipped off one swell, hit another, then nosed down. Although the airplane remained afloat for some 45 minutes, the airplane's doors never opened, and the pilot never came out. A full accident report is pending.

So never take a ditching for granted. The basic, much-abbreviated keys to survival have been outlined above. More information is available in the Aeronautical Information Manual and other government publications. Attending water-survival seminars, preparing yourself with a positive mental attitude, and carrying the right equipment remains the best and only way to prepare for the rare chance that you'll have to perform a "water landing." That, or buy a float-equipped airplane.

There is also a hugely informative article on AvWeb. They add:

But, what if you only consider open ocean or cold water ditchings where the waves are bigger, hypothermia becomes a bigger problem, and rescue can be far away? Is it hopeless? We know of a number of highly publicized instances where pilots ditching in the North Atlantic survived, which immediately disputes the statements quoted at the top of this article. Moreover, Bertorelli found, "22 blue water ditchings ... there were four fatalities in this group of 22, for a survival rate of 82 percent, not too much worse than it is for coastal or inshore ditchings." So, even the worst possible circumstances don't make that big a difference in the survival rate.

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