Posted 9 days ago ago by jhadmin
Helicopter crashes can happen on any kind of flight, including short corporate helicopter jumps from city to city. “Let’s say you are flying from Toronto to Ottawa, Canada,” said David Arama, director of the WSC Survival School in Cloyne, Ontario, and author of the new survival book, ‘How To Start a Fire With Water’. “This is an hour-long flight path that passes over Algonquin Provincial Park: If your helicopter goes down there, you need to be prepared to survive in a wilderness situation!”
Similar risks exist for American pilots flying across natural preserves and forested mountains; even in the heavily urbanized Eastern Seaboard. Add the post-crash challenges of unexpectedly landing on water – risks that exist even for helicopters hopping across New York City – and planning to survive after a crash should be a priority for all helicopter pilots.
Unfortunately, “90 percent of helicopter pilots do not take survival preparations seriously,” said Arama. “They often fly with inadequate safety training and equipment; lacking anything beyond a car-quality first aid kit, and not knowing if their aircraft’s Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) is functioning properly. Should a crash occur, these pilots are utterly unprepared to survive until help arrives -- especially if they land in an hard-to-access area in bad weather where assistance can take days to get through.”
A Pragmatic Approach to Post-Crash Survival
Of course, a pilot who becomes too focused on the dangers of post-crash survival can cut into the time they should be spending on other vital matters; such as proper pre-flight planning and in-flight attention to piloting. In the same vein, a helicopter can only carry so much survival equipment before its payload capacity becomes compromised. The equipment a pilot chooses to carry for emergencies has to strike a balance between usefulness and compactness/lightness.
This is why taking a pragmatic approach to post-crash survival makes sense. Smart pilots can never address the full range of catastrophes that could befall them, but they can substantially improve their odds [of survival] by preparing to deal with those most likely to occur on their flights.
The process starts by determining the types of terrain – including open water -- and climates that a pilot could find him or herself in a post-crash situation.
Figuring this out is actually easy. Just look at the routes you fly on a regular basis, and learn what is under your aircraft at any time during your flight. This knowledge will better prepare you for your post-crash survival. “For instance, if you fly regularly over a desert, you’d better have water on board,” said Ron Abbott, co-owner of Florida’s Aviation Survival; a distributor of aviation survival equipment and quality helicopter helmets. “If you fly over water, you need a life raft and life vests.”
Post-Crash Survival Starts with Training
Now that you have assessed the post-crash terrain and climate issues that you, your crew and passengers could be facing, it’s time to buy survival equipment, right?
Wrong. You first need to acquire the right survival training and skills to know what equipment you should have in your helicopter. Before you start buying supplies, develop ‘best practices’ for your flights, and take personal action as a pilot before, during and after an actual crash landing.
“One of the key errors in preparing for emergency situations is the lack of basic training for crew and passengers,” said Adam Laurie. He is Operations Coordinator and an instructor with the Rescue Canada Resource Group. “It is key to start with being prepared, than having a good understanding of emergency procedures, and knowing how to mitigate risks,” Laurie said. “With this information and training, the percentage of errors can be greatly decreased.”
Such knowledge is best acquired from properly-trained helicopter safety experts and survival training schools, rather than a flying buddy. If you regularly fly over extremely rugged areas, taking a mix of helicopter-based and general outdoors person courses would be your best bet; such as those offered by FlightSafety International and the WSC Survival School, among others.
If your flights regularly transit over water, then realistic marine training makes sense. This includes taking helicopter underwater egress training (HUET) escape sessions in pool-based immersion trainers. HUET courses are offered by professionals such as the Marine Survival Training Center/University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and the Rescue Canada Resource Group (Rescue Canada).
“Rescue Canada has developed a Helicopter Safety Rescue Program with the support and assistance of a court qualified subject matter expert in Canada and the USA,” said Laurie. “The Helicopter Safety Rescue Program is devised of four course levels ranging from basic awareness, which is an online course, to Underwater Egress training, Occupational Safety training and, finally, rescue training. The course has been adopted by government and private industry as a best practice for their workers using helicopters in many environments and performing a wide variety of tasks.”
Speaking of training, regular passengers on corporate helicopters should also know what to do during a crash landing; whether on land or water. “The typical pre-flight safety speech is not enough to prepare passengers for an actual crash landing, and when trouble happens, pilots are usually too busy trying to save the aircraft to talk to the passengers,” said Louisa Fisher; Program Manager of Cabin Safety with FlightSafety International. “Meanwhile, it can be awkward for the pilot who is supposed to be keeping corporate passengers out of harm’s way to also train them properly to deal with emergency situations. This is where bringing in a third-party safety instruction firm, like FlightSafety International, can make a difference; especially because we are willing to come to your premises to provide the training.”
Getting the Survival Equipment You Need
Search for ‘helicopter safety equipment’ online, and you can find all manner of equipment providers willing to sell you kits ranging from the most basic first aid set-ups to comprehensive suites that will let you comfortably survive a month in the Arctic - food included.
The question in assessing all these options is simply, “what survival equipment do I need and not need?” With any luck, you will already have answered this question during your survival training. But if you haven’t, here are a few necessities suggested by the experts:
“When it comes to medical kits, you can often get the level of sophistication you need from serious suppliers such as Adventure Medical Kits,” said Ron Abbott. “Outdoors-oriented stores such as Mountain Equipment Co-op, SAIL Outdoor, and U.S. Outdoor can also be good sources for medical kits, plus survival-oriented shelters, clothing, bedding, and equipment.”
In terms of stocking up for general survival, the priority order is “shelter, fire, and water,” said David Arama. “We do this due to the Rule of 3s: You can survive 3 weeks with food, 3 days without water, and 3 hours if you are extremely hypothermic. This is why you need to have some form of shelter and thermal protection onboard; even if it is a minimally-sized tent and solar blankets; fire-starting tools like magnesium and a flint, or even just a butane lighter; plus bottled water, water purification tablets, and a filter-equipped LifeStraw that purifies contaminated water as you sip it. Basic food rations also are wise to have onboard, such as military-style MREs (meals ready to eat).”
Beyond survival equipment, communications equipment is a must if rescuers are to find you (which is a good reason to stay with the aircraft as long as possible). “Beyond making sure your ELT is always working, you should have your own personal locator beacon (PLB),” said Abbott. “You can get one for about $240; they’re not expensive.” A backup Iridium satellite phone makes sense, since cellular coverage drops off outside urban areas and VHF radio’s reach is not reliable at ground level -- assuming that your radio still works.
If you fly over water, a working life raft and life vests are onboard necessities. If the water is seriously cold, survival suits are also important; including having everyone wear these suits during flights to survive the shock of entering frigid water before the raft has inflated.
DBC Marine Safety Systems specializes in such products, plus engine fire bottles, chemical fire extinguishers, and comprehensive survival kits for both over-land and over-water flights. DBC’s over-land survival kits, which are stocked in line with the number of persons on the aircraft, “include a means of providing shelter, starting a fire, water purification; a means of signalling, and a Survival Manual,” said Wes Ambeau, DBC’s Survival Kits Administrator; plus food rations and “appropriate Type A or B First Aid Kits.”
Over-water kits with life rafts come “equipped with an attached survival kit sufficient for the survival on water of each person on board the aircraft,” said Bobby Kirkley, DBC’s Aviation Supervisor. Each kit includes “a means of providing shelter, a two-day supply of water and/or a means of desalting salt water; a raft repair kit, bailing bucket, signalling devices, a fishing kit, and a survival manual.”
Best Practices for Survival-Oriented Flying
Okay, so you have taken the survival training, and equipped your helicopter with survival necessities. Now all that remains is to implement the right “Best Practices” to ensure that you and your pilots always fly with post-crash survival in mind.
Here are the kind of best practices you will want to put in place:
1. Before flying, make sure that you have filed a flight plan; even if it is as simple as making sure someone knows your planned flight path and ETA.
2. Stick to your flight plan. This is the first area rescuers will check if you crash.
3. Before takeoff, inspect your survival equipment to ensure that it is operational. If it isn’t, don’t fly! This includes verifying that your satphone and PLB are working.
4. Make sure everyone is properly dressed to deal with the weather in the event of a crash. Short-sleeves and sneakers are not appropriate for flying over snow-bound Minnesota in February.
5. Don’t fly beyond your piloting capabilities. If you are VFR-rated and IFR conditions are likely to occur, stay on the ground!
6. If you crash and survive, don’t panic. Instead, follow the STOP protocol suggested by David Arama: Sit, Think, Observe, and Plan. “Too many people lose their training and make fatal mistakes due to fear,” he said. “Calm down, assess your situation and supplies, and then act; and if at all possible, stay with your aircraft because rescuers will look there first.”
7. Stay with the Aircraft. “Don't wander away,” said Ron Abbott. “Too many people wander away from a crash site. Many times the crash site is found but the people wandered away and died because they went the wrong way looking for help.”
Post-crash survival may be something that a helicopter pilot never has to deal with, but preparing for it nevertheless, is as much as part of their duties as learning to takeoff and land safely. The only time you’ll appreciate the value of taking these preventative steps is when things go sideways in the air, and you’re ready to deal with the consequences.