Subject: A life saving course
So there I was, hanging upside down in an inverted C180 floatplane, water over my head and pondering my next move. First on the list was to select an available exit route. Sliding my hand along the door till I felt the handle I figured I now had it made. Moving the door lever went fine right up to the part where the door refused to open. I wasn't sure if it was bent and therefore jammed shut or if water pressure was the culprit. Either way it was not the most encouraging development and necessitated a brief suppression of severe anxiety in order to concentrate on plan "B". Knowing that the window latch was nearby, I slid my hand along to it and with a quick twist and push was greeted with a deluge of seawater flooding into the cockpit. It was at that point that I'd just about had enough excitement and pulled the seatbelt latch with one hand while keeping my other firmly grasping the exit window so as not to get lost on the way out. Half way out the window while partly blind, totally immersed and still holding my breath, came the last challenge! My headset was still attached and although it kept my ears warm, the cords were still plugged in and didn't want to let go. One final rush of adrenaline, a pull on the headset, a kick against the seat and I was out the window and suddenly paddling above water between the inverted floats. The float spreader bar offered a nice place to sit while waiting for a nearby boater to pick me up and although I was wearing a life jacket , I realized that I'd never inflated it ! The moral of this story is that I owe my life to Bryan Webster and his team of egress training experts along with the installation of shoulder harnesses in the airplane. Without the harnesses, serious impact injury might have hindered the physical ability to escape and without the egress training, there would have been no routine to follow and panic would most certainly have become the order of the day, followed by drowning. ! Respectfully Submitted to TSB and pilots who fly over water.
I wanted to let you know the story of my recent crash involving my Glastar and how the Aviation Egress Training I did with you 10 years ago was instrumental in saving our lives.
On June 9th in the early evening I took my nephew on a flight out of Victoria with a destination of Lake Cowichan, 25 minutes west of Victoria Airport. It was a lovely early summer evening and the plan was to do a couple of touch and goes and then return to Victoria prior to sunset. After a preflight passenger briefing, walk around and weather check we flew out of Victoria in a cloudless warm picture-perfect evening around 7:00 pm.
Once we arrived over Lake Cowichan I assessed the wind direction, water conditions, made the normal radio call to announce our location, direction and intentions. Wind was 10-15 knots coming from the west, we set up for a landing mid-lake and brought the plane down onto the water with a normal uneventful landing. After a short taxi and checks, flaps set, trim set, water rudders up, into the wind, a last minute traffic look out it was throttle up. We proceeded to pick up speed on the water, skipping over the waves until the familiar lift off and climb out to the east to Honeymoon Bay for another landing prior to heading home.
We made a normal approach to the water in landing configuration, pre-landing checks included wheel light indicators, up (being amphibious), wheel position visual check, flaps set, speed and trim set for landing, approach speed 60 mph. The water surface only had small ripples so I brought her down to the water slowly and added just enough throttle before we touched down to make a nice smooth landing. As we started coming off the step this was the point that our evening turned from being a picture-perfect summer routine landing to a life threatening situation in a matter of 2-3 seconds. As soon as the water came into contact with the forward section of the floats, we immediately flipped over and came to a very abrupt stop, underwater.
In an instant, we were upside down, 8 feet down with 450 of water below us. The windshield shattered on impact and the cockpit filled with water instantly. This is where your training kicked in and the 1st of three very important factors happened in saving our lives and allows me to write this.
So here we are, upside down, underwater, the cockpit filled with water and a voice enters my head:
Keep your seat belt on
Open your door, confirm your way out, keep your arm out.
Grab your passenger(s)
Release your seat belt and get out.
I immediately reached up to my door handle and was able to open the door and find our way out was clear, check! I then reached over to Jonathon and gave him the strongest horse pinch I could muster on his arm and felt him flinch. That told me he was conscious so we were good to go, check. I can tell you I did not care about myself, I was not going to exit that cockpit without him. I then reached around his inflatable vest, released my harness as he did his, and pulled him as hard as I could and as fast as I could and out the pilot’s door we went. Up to the surface we go and the second life saving factor of the night kicks in, we were both wearing inflatable vests.
It took me at least 30 seconds to assess what had happened and pull the manual inflation handle on his vest, this was when I watched the look on his face go from confusion and stress to a very noticeable and much more relaxed look. There was the confident 22 year old invincible kid I knew! Over 35 years promoting the use of Mustang PFD’s and here it was, first hand. The floatation immediately took one very real threat away. I can tell you, without floatation at this point it would have made the situation much more serious. This now gave me time to assess what had happened.
Before I inflated my vest, I wanted to check out Jonathon so I put on my goggles, which I carry in my vest pocket, told him I needed to check the plane so not to concern him and dove down to ensure he was ok. Shock does interesting things to your body and mind, so I was not going to rely on what he was telling me when he said he was alright. I checked his legs, arms, turned him around checking for blood, lacerations, broken bones, all seemed ok. I surfaced, asked him if he was in pain, only his shins hurt from being scraped on the underside of the instrument panel as he was pulled from the cockpit. I then dove down again (Later to realize how foolish this was) to turn off the master switch and fuel, not knowing that the entire aircraft was being held afloat by one float and one bolt! This was the shock setting in, you quickly loose your judgment. By now we had been in the water a few minutes and I inflated my vest, attached myself to Jonathon and had him hold onto the aircraft float telling him to be prepared to let go quickly if it started to sink further.
We then waited comfortably as two boats that were out enjoying the great warm summer weather, came along-side shortly there after and lifted us out of the water. I was then able to see what the cause of the accident was, the right float had a 4 foot long by 18” inch wide portion of the bottom skin completely missing forward of the main gear. We had what has now been described by the Transportation Safety Board as a catastrophic failure of the right float, in plain language, the bottom of the float open like a banana peel. The float then acted like a speed brake. Was this avoidable? Being of composite construction it is more difficult when doing inspections to see hidden defects. Was this the cause or did we hit something submerged below the surface of the water that went unnoticed when we did our previous take off? We may never know but I have learned much about the good and bad of composite verses aluminum and for the reasons of this accident, I would never again have composite floats.
About 10 years ago I decided to take egress training with you - that training was the main reason we are both alive and I have the opportunity to tell this story.
The third life saving factor was the 4 point harnesses we were wearing. This kept us in position, and stopped us from being thrown forward into the instrument panel which apparently is another common occurrence. As a matter of interest, this was the 1st question that the interviewer from the TSB had for me, "what were we wearing for seat belts". He told me that if we had been in standard single shoulder strap configuration at the speed of the impact we would have surely been thrown forward with enough force to break our collar bones. This would have allowed enough forward movement to have our heads come in contact with the instrument panel and chances are we would have been knocked out. That would have made for a very different story as the TSB interviewer stated, “we would have recovered your bodies with the aircraft”.
While we were extremely fortunate being a beautiful summer evening, what saved our lives was training, the right equipment allowing us to keep calm, nearby boaters and of course an element of luck. We could have received much more serious injuries from the shattered plexiglass windshield which was all around us, but even then with wearing our pfd’s as long as we were able to get out, we had our best chance at survival.
I have spent the last 35 years telling anyone who will listen, the only good PFD or life jacket is the one you are wearing and surviving this only makes me more determined to get the word out. You may be fortunate enough to have plenty of warning and have lots of altitude and time to find and put it on, if you loose an engine in a fixed wing aircraft. I doubt very much this would be the case for a pilot who is trying to still aviate, navigate and communicate. If you are unfortunate enough to be on approach, landing or flying a helicopter you have no chance, so wearing it is your only viable option and I will continue to promote and push for any aviators flying small aircraft to wear them. Also, if you have passengers, you are of no use to them if you can’t help yourself once out of the aircraft!
This is one guy who is sure thankful to have taken the time to do your training and my wife is now doing your course and I am back for a refresher. I hope being struck by lighting is a higher chance than this ever happening again, but you can be sure when I am flying our coast I will be doing so with current egress training, wearing a pfd and carrying the necessary equipment on my person to assist us once we are out of the aircraft. I also will not be flying in a small aircraft (regardless of the configuration) that does not have harnesses that go across both shoulders.
Brenda from Campbell River BC writes-
Several years ago my late husband and I were practicing flying skills in our Super 22 Bushmaster which we had spent many years previous building, and at the time were installed on floats. By the end of that day we were both at the hospital and left with a major aircraft rebuild project once again, plus wondering what had just happened. I was passenger that day sitting beside my husband who was in the left seat of our aircraft while he performed standard step taxi techniques. We had no intension of actually going flying as there was a low ceiling and it was simply to refresh us and blow the dust off our aircraft. We both had pilot licenses and also had been taking helicopter pilot training on a Bell 46. That particular day though we wanted to get back into the fixed wing world once again which is considerably different. Once on the step at a moderate speed we were scooting across the water surface and I was face down immersed in twiddling dials on the Loran.
A moment later the engine sound changed and I felt us lift off, realizing we were in the air I assumed my husband would just land again but this was not the case. We continued to remain airborne and then he initiated a left down wind turn back to base, unfortunately the next thing I knew we were heading straight down on my side as the upper wing had stalled. I remember putting my hands on the seat belt and thinking don’t do anything until it stops, at which time water pressure pushed me violently backwards in the seat with such force I was pinned until there was silence.
Amazingly we stopped in an upright position, but there was water flooding the cabin rapidly thus I quickly undid my seat belts and assisted my unconscious husband who had hit his head on the dash.
He soon regained composure and we escaped through the front window just as the aircraft rolled inverted and forced us to take refuge on the one intact float bottom, which was supporting the craft on the water surface.
About that time a paddle and life vest had been collected from debris floating freely about the downed craft, and plans for floating to the nearby shore had been made when a boat appeared in the distance and helped transport us to the local hospital for medical aid.
For me this was the end of the days flying but the beginning of a nightmare that started with agonizing dreams of being trapped underwater and searching in vain for non existent passengers until waking up shaking, sweating and crying. Once the aircraft had been repaired two years later I attempted a recurrence training program with an experienced instructor, but solo flight brought back the post crash anxiety. At times just the sight of an aircraft gave me anxiety, and I seriously considering giving up flying and selling the aircraft in hopes the situation would improve. Then I heard about Aviation Egress Systems training program and eventually got up the nerve to call me to discuss my options.
I spoke with Bryan Webster and after numerous conversations agreed to attend one of his Egress classes and thus return mentally to the scene of the crime where I had been so deeply affected now several years prior. When I arrived at the pool facility physically shaking and having serious doubts about attending the program Bryan and his staff assured me this was the best therapy, and the training would help alter my path in life that had been so deeply affected since the crash.
After calming down and becoming part of the class discussions on how to handle and think about ditching we reviewed my story, and even the group helped assure me this would be the best way to dispel my fears.
In the pool I was reluctant and viewed the equipment as terrifying, but forced myself to continue and progressed in a methodical manner from basic life vest drills to working underwater opening doors and windows. Only after watching the other students take numerous dunkings in their simulators did I agree to take the plunge and was soon repeating the roll over procedure until the paralyzing fear that gripped me subsided. By the end of the day I was calm and reacting in the appropriate manner that gained the respect of everyone involved, which helped me overcome my past negative experience.
Bryan Webster knew what I did not. He knew from his own experience I had to go back to that underwater experience again and this was why he was so persuasive. I finally worked up the courage to take that course and I am very happy that I did it. Huge progress has been made from the gut wrenching apprehension at every landing, to now having the confidence that I can think my way through any underwater Egress situation. Since that day in 2001 I now sleep well at night and am back flying my Bushmaster all over the country without apprehension and plan to take another AES pilot ditching course again in the future.
Signed - Brenda