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2/4 Marines train to escape from downed birds

Marine Corps News

Story Identification #: 20055241263
Story by Lt. Col. Will Lathrop

CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Okinawa (May 18, 2005) -- The scenario: a helicopter carrying Marines over the Pacific Ocean is forced to make an emergency landing and ditches into the water. But instead of the passengers panicking and floundering about helplessly inside of the downed craft, they rapidly escape using the emergency exits and swim to the surface.

How were these Marines able to make such a safe and hasty escape from a downed bird flooded with water? Because they’ve benefited from the thorough and intense training in the classroom, and in the “helo dunker”, at the camp’s training pool.

Ten Marines and one sailor with elements of Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, spent May 17 and 18 learning how to egress from a sinking helicopter under the supervision of professional instructors from Survival Systems USA.

Survival Systems USA is an organization that specializes in training military members the world over on specific skill sets that can assist in saving themselves and the lives of their brothers-in-arms should they be involved in a helicopter accident over water.

The students spent both mornings in the classroom discussing the two main types of helicopter airframes the Marine Corps uses for transporting troops, the CH-46 and CH-53 and both afternoons in the pool practicing what they had learned.

David Stott and Lee Warren, both former reconnaissance Marines, who have been with Survival Systems USA since its inception three years ago, led the classes.

“The main points we stress throughout the training is a good, tight brace position and being able to breathe off of the intermediate passenger helicopter aircrew breathing device confidently,” said Warren, a Houston native.

The brace position taught in the course is meant to reduce the amount of body parts exposed to flying debris and how much a passenger will be thrown inside of the aircraft. The IPHABD, or Habdee, is a small oxygen tank with a breathing regulator that provides emergency air to passengers who fly over water.

During the first day of application in the pool, the Marines and sailor first practiced being overturned underwater in a shallow water egress trainer chair, which simulates what happens to helicopters when they land in water. The top-heavy design of helicopters causes them to roll over in the water. Each of the students was strapped into the SWET chair and turned over placing them underwater and upside down; after waiting for all violent motion to cease, the trainees unbuckled and quickly pulled themselves from the submerged cage.

After practicing in the SWET chair, the students practiced breathing underwater with the Habdee.

The final event for the day was a ride in the modular aircraft egress trainer, a helicopter simulator that drops into the pool and rotates, suspending the occupants upside down. They rehearsed jettisoning the emergency exits and pulling themselves out of the MAET and swimming to the surface.

“When that bird goes under water, approximately 17.1 tons of water are going to rush in,” said Stott, “and if you’re not strapped in properly, you’re going to be like a cat in a washing machine on spin cycle.”

The second morning of class entailed water survival techniques that should be used as soon as the evacuation of the downed craft is complete and is intended to keep the survivors together.

In the afternoon training comprised at review of the previous day’s training and added the realistic factors of weapons, flak jackets and more personnel inside the “aircraft.” Blacked out goggles were also worn to add the element of blindness and simulate a night egress. Eight men at a time went into the MAET, with two instructors and two safety divers, and practiced while wearing flak jackets, Habdees, self-inflating life-preserving units, Kevlar helmets and rifles.

“Clear the exit and get the heck out of the way,” Stott told his class. “If you’re taking your time pulling yourself out of the aircraft, you’re not only putting yourself in danger, you’re also putting your fellow Marines’ lives in danger.”

To finish off the water portion of the training, the class jumped out of the MAET while it was in the air, training for bailing out of a helicopter that still has the ability to hover for a short period of time before going down. Once out of the bird, the class members practiced two water survival techniques that kept the group together: the carpet formation and the chain formation, as well as righting a life raft that was capsized.

Upon completion of the two days of training the Marines were presented cards certifying them as having completed the training.

“It is mandatory training for all Marines and it should be enforced that all Marines attend,” said Warren.


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