Colombia Trains Military, Civilian Personnel for Aeromaritime Emergencies

The new center will train Colombian and partner nations’ citizens in water survival procedures in case of accidents.
Yolima Dussán/Diálogo | 18 April 2019

Capacity Building

Military and civilian students in the region learn to leave the cabin of an aircraft wrecked at sea. (Photo: Colombian Navy’s Aeromaritime Emergency Training and Simulation Center)

The Colombian Navy opened the Aeromaritime Emergency Training and Simulation Center on January 25, 2019, in Barranquilla. Part of an agreement between Colombia’s Ministry of Defense and U.S. company Bell Helicopter for the country’s strategic development, the center offers knowledge and technology transfer to the defense sector.

“We develop training capabilities in basic and advanced water survival procedures for the Colombian Military Forces’ and partner nations’ aviation, and also for the crews of naval, oil, and gas companies,” Colombian Navy Commander Luis Fernando Serna Herrera, commandant of the Naval Aviation School, told Diálogo. “The instruction is based on the standards of the International Maritime Organization [IMO] and the Offshore Petroleum Industry Training Organization [OPITO].”

The institution needed a $5 million investment and the cooperation of many companies, such as aerospace company Bell. The center has a modifiable simulator to practice evacuation procedures for submerged helicopters and airplane cabins.

The equipment can simulate emergencies at sea with great realism, focusing on four main exercises: safety induction, helicopter escape, sea survival, and basic training for fire control, defined as personal survival techniques. “We also do sea search and rescue training and water survival techniques,” Cmdr. Serna said.

Topic of many

According to the rules for members of the armed forces and the aeronautical sector in Colombia, all those operating on the high seas should conduct emergency landing training every two years. The new center responds to the needs of the aeronautical and shipping sectors of the region.

“The process starts with psychological and body-mind information and conditioning in case of an emergency. Then comes the practical training in the simulator,” said Colombian Navy Commander Carlos Andrés Rojas Sendales, head of the training center’s academic department. “In the [shallow] part of the swimming pool, students learn to operate seat belts, knock out windows, and use self-contained breathing equipment.”

Space is confined inside the helicopter simulator cabin; doors are closed, and the helicopter sinks. At the end of the exercise, students must learn to get out of the aircraft.

The next phase has the crew in a sinking helicopter that overturned. “Perception changes here; people get disoriented. The challenge is to learn to orient yourself and use the breathing equipment to reach the surface,” said Cmdr. Serna. “We have the strictest training, where the worst scenarios are simulated: submerged and overturned cabin, nighttime environment, powerful waves, rain, and loud environmental noise.”

A jungle commando of the Colombian Police trains in survival techniques in Tolima department. The elite commando is the first line of attack against narcotrafficking and organized crime. (Photo: Rodrigo Arangua, AFP)

Self-control and knowledge

Simulations take students progressively to the most extreme conditions, developing their ability to use aircraft elements for survival and to prioritize personal and team safety. Those nine hours of work and concentration may save a person’s life and help save others.

“The training completes the phases of rescue, time, post-accident environmental interaction in extreme conditions, trauma and injured management, disorientation on the raft, and personal and crew condition control,” Cmdr. Rojas said. “[They learn] to work as a team, to ration out supplies in the raft so they can survive the condition until a rescue vessel or aircraft arrives.”

Training and technique classes

Emergency landings on water are different and depend on the aircraft. If a helicopter has an emergency, it will tend to overturn due to its higher center of gravity. An airplane will tend to sink because of its flat wings.

All the conditions in the program are anticipated. It’s a space where the environment can change suddenly to become an emergency scenario.

“The temperature is that of cold water,” Cmdr. Serna said. “The thermal shock triggers a reaction that we should [learn] to manage, because in addition to the fear and anxiety of the emergency itself, the cold paralyzes people.”

Blocking water from entering the body when facing down is another definitive learning technique. It’s necessary to avoid water getting in through the nose, which causes pain.

However, overcoming disorientation may be the greatest test. At that moment, the brain cannot detect if the way out is to the right or left, the officers agreed. “First, it’s important to break the door and obtain a reference point before breaking free, something that requires many hours of training,” they said.

The Colombian Navy’s Aeromaritime Emergency and Simulation Center has the support of IMO, and it will obtain OPITO certification in the second semester of 2019. Then Colombia will join the group of countries that already offer the training in the Western Hemisphere: Brazil, Canada, Chile, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States.

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