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Waypoint: Getting out when you’re down

As pilots, we never think it will happen – that horrific moment when an off-airport incident occurs, throwing you into the water with life-threatening consequences.


January 4, 2013
By Rob Seaman

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As pilots, we never think it will happen – that horrific moment when an off-airport incident occurs, throwing you into the water with life-threatening consequences. If you fly over or near water, you should stop to think about how you would get out of the aircraft should you wind up “in the drink.” Some planning and training today could save your life when and if that time ever comes.

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Bryan Webster will train and help prepare you for the day when reactive action comes into play. PHOTO: Rob Seaman


 

During a recent filming session for a new pilot and aviation safety product called SmartPilot.ca (a special undertaking being underwritten by the Search and Rescue Directorate), I had the pleasure of getting to know Bryan Webster. Webster is well-known in the aviation community as a director of the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association. He is also an expert on egress training and he’s aptly referred to as “Bry the Dunker Guy.” The point of the episode was to show how to plan and train for a challenging water egress scenario once an aircraft has impacted a body of water.

“Egress stats in general are one of those contentious issues which over the years, I have found can cause heated debate and bring many different outlooks due to water temperature and accident geographic locations,” Webster says. “The Transport Canada website lists lives lost and the results cannot be disputed.”

For unknown reasons, 2012 had a higher-than-usual aircraft accident rate related to aircraft involved with water. In his best guess, Webster notes this could be related to the great weather we experienced across Canada – and attributed to more aircraft being out in general, more students doing float training or just bad luck. Webster points to a horrific Beaver crash in Northern Ontario early in the Spring, followed by one into Pigeon Lake north of Toronto and then a student on his first Solo in Okanagan Lake. This was followed by a “gear down” amphibious crash into the water on Vancouver Island, and then an instructor perishing near Vancouver in a 172 during float training.

“Unfortunately, these statistics have always been a factor in our aviating community, thus we mitigate the risk by training in general – which for floats is presently only seven hours to qualify for an endorsement,” he says. Webster feels that there should be a review of these requirements to allow for more training, but he also points out that this does not explain the higher-time, experienced pilots ending up inverted in the water.

According to Webster, in egress-related accidents, the colder the water, the higher the mortality rate. “Cold shock masks the real life-threatening situation – that being the lack of air available, and the very short time for survival added to that taken in finding an exit,” he says.

Aviation Egress Systems is Webster’s corporate entity established to train flight pilots and cabin crew and even passengers in all aspects of planning for – and executing – a safe egress from an emergency situation. In business since 1998, the firm has been directly credited with saving one life per year (14) regarding “in water” aircraft emergencies. Webster has trained in excess of 5,000 people and his work covers everything from briefing cards and passenger pre-flight briefs through hands on egress experiences – in the dunk tank. Regardless, if you’re flying a corporate jet, weekend pleasure craft, rotary-wing ship or smaller commercial aircraft, Webster will train and help prepare you for the day when reactive action comes into play.

Many pilots say, “This is really not something I need to worry about – and dismiss the idea of training. But the fact is, everyone should think about this sort of emergency preparedness. Gaining experience first-hand, in a warm pool facility, is time well spent.
Survivors who have put the training to the test know how critical the course is. One survivor, “Jason,” notes: “I am writing you today to thank you, Bryan. Years ago, I attended the Underwater Egress Training you offered. In September of 2012, I was the pilot of a float equipped Cessna involved in an accident resulting in being submerged and belted in. I have no doubt that your training saved my life and the life of my passenger.

“In spite of the fact I had taken your training, I still had trouble finding the door handle and exiting the aircraft. The training I received was always mentioned on my preflight speech and luckily my passenger listened and remembered what I had told him. He was able to open his door and escape, while I was still struggling with mine, thinking this is what it feels like to drown. Then with only seconds left to live, I consciously thought about breathing water in but gave it one more try to escape and found my way out the passenger door. I firmly believe that everyone who operates an aircraft should have this training as it does work and is as valuable as you hold your life.”

What’s that old saying about an ounce of prevention? Thank heaven there are people like Bryan Webster who think this way and can help others when their chips are down.


Rob Seaman is a Wings writer and columnist.