Argentine Aircrews Train on How to Survive Plane Crashes at Sea
By Geraldine Cook April 05, 2016
Aircrew members from the Army and Navy use a special cabin that simulates the impact of an aircraft in water, enabling service members to train how to survive emergency situations.
A cabin that simulates the impact of an aircraft crashing at sea is the focus of a course for aircrews in the Argentine Armed Forces. During the first week of March, 92 Soldiers from Naval Aviation and Army units conducted training exercises in the submerged cabin at the Comandante Espora Naval Air Base in the municipality of Bahía Blanca, province of Buenos Aires.
“The course is an annual requirement for all flight crew members [of the Armed Forces of Argentina],” explained Commander Jorge Nieto, head of the Training Center for the Second Naval Air Force (CIFA), which organizes the classes.
During the training, crew members practiced breathing techniques and underwater escape methods. “The idea is for all Officers and [non-commissioned officers], both men and women, who are members of flight crews to take part in this exercise annually,” Cmdr. Nieto stated to Diálogo
The aircrews’ training is conducted in four stages. First, the service members learn international standardized procedures for evacuating a submerged cabin. Then, they enter a conventional indoor pool for swimming, begin apnea (stopping breathing in water), and perform flotation exercises. Their goal is to be able to handle themselves in the water while wearing all the equipment typically used when flying, such as helmets and vests.
The service members also practice jumping overboard, a skill needed to evacuate an aircraft that has landed in water. “The crew members learn to enter the sea in a secure position so they will not get hurt,” Cmdr. Nieto said. “They also practice using different equipment for water survival, such as anti-exposure suits [that protect against cold] and self-contained breathing apparatuses [devices that have a mask, pressure valves, and air cylinders].”
In the third stage, the crew members are submerged in a pool along with the cabin. “It is a specially designed pool with a glass wall that allows the director of the exercise to see how they are performing,” Cmdr. Nieto said. “As a security precaution, rescue swimmers and divers watch over the exercise in the pool.”
The cabin simulates the impact on water and flips over. The impact’s angle is approximately 25 to 30 degrees. In a real situation, the impact’s speed depends on the type of aircraft and emergency.
“The aircraft may be approaching the water at a very low speed, for example, at 70 or 80 knots [130 km/h or 148 km/h],” Cmdr. Nieto added. “But if there is a complicated emergency, they may reach a much higher impact speed. However, the goal is to achieve the lowest possible speed to ensure a greater chance of survival at sea.”
In the pool, students implement the escape procedure they learned in the pool under the instructors’ supervision. Finally, there is a second cabin for helicopter crews, which also simulates an impact and flips over. Cmdr. Nieto explained that the impact of a helicopter is different than a standard aircraft in that it touches the water at a more vertical angle and turns to one side based on the ocean current. “The idea is for each crew member to be clear about the process of evacuating the aircraft, whatever type of aircraft it might be, in order to be able to survive at sea.”
Participants stressed the course’s value. “It is important to learn how to act in a real event in order to avoid panic and perform in the best possible manner,” Naval Aviation Seaman David Billordo said to the Argentine Navy’s news website, Gaceta Marinera
Soldiers have applied the program’s content in many real contexts. “With the aircraft carriers, for example, on several occasions aircraft went into the water,” Cmdr. Nieto said. “The plane then flips over, the rescue helicopter approaches, it launches the rescue swimmers, and the crew uses the techniques they have learned.”
The CIFA also trains rescue swimmers on an ongoing basis, in addition to conducting a variety of survival training sessions with crew members. One of the courses, for example, simulates the rescue of a victim at sea by rescuers in a helicopter.
“Every five years, it is recommended that [the crew members] conduct a survival exercise in a cold climate, a mountain region, or a desert area, in accordance with our country’s [environment],” Cmdr. Nieto highlighted. “It is one thing to crash in Tierra del Fuego [at the southern tip of Argentina, with a cold climate] and another to crash into the region of [the province of] Buenos Aires.”
Training of members of an military should be permanent, it is important to survival and rescue. Thought should also go into training civil society periodically, no one is free from suffering an accident.