Tuesday, October 16, 2007

HUET Training

Yesterday I did a Helicopter Underwater Egress Training (HUET) course. The idea behind this course is to teach how to get out of a submerged helicopter. In the Gulf of Mexico the majority of helicopter operations are done with single engine choppers. Naturally, any powerplant failure means you will be getting wet! While twin enigne birds are getting more common, they have two engines because they can't fly on one! All helo's are equipped with inflatable floating skids. These skids are a nice idea and work well. However, invariably the waves and swell of the ocean end up flipping the chopper upside down almost instantly. Like this guy from a just few weeks ago:

From reading historical accident reports in the gulf, most helicopters make it safetly to the water. If you get out of the helicopter, you have an almost certain chance for survival (the USCG rawks!). Getting out is what proves to be difficult for most victims. This is why the training is becoming a requirement. The helicopter above is a great example. Three people were on board, and there were no injuries.

The morning was spent in a classroom learning basic stuff, and was pretty boring. The fun began when we got to the pool. We started by learning survival floating techniques. These included how to put on a life jacket in the water, survival float positions, and using clothing as floatation devices. All good stuff to know. Final was the HUET simulator. Here, you strap into a simulator, get dropped under water, and flipped upside down. You then have to open the door, unlatch your seat belt, and exit the simulator. The key is to memorize a reference to the door frame so you know where it is. Trust me - when you are submerged under the water and flipped over, you are completely disoriented.

The simulator was similar to this one...

Here is a short animation video of a simulator in action on this page:


I'm not going to lie, it was absolutely terrifying the first time! I'm a bit clausterphobic to begin with. Being in an enclosed space, underwater, and completely disoriented is not something to look forward to! It took me some time to relax - which is the key - be relaxed and don't panic. I wasn't scared of not getting out. I was scared I would panic. Truthfully, I wasn't sure how I would react.

My first dunk, I got completely lost. I managed to get out, but I went out the wrong side! Oops! Instead of going out the door right next to me, I went out the opposite side. I had no idea I was going the wrong way! So we repeated it, this time I went the right way, opened the *correct* door and got out the correct side. The next dunk you have to go across the simulator then out the door on the opposite side - what I did incorrectly the first time. After the third dunk, my confidence had grown, and it was beginning to get almost "fun". I got to do a couple of more dunks and it's second nature at this point.

I knew the concepts behind getting out of a submerged chopper before the course. But there is no substitute for having to get out of the simulator. It's harder than it looks - the first time. But it's easier than it looks after doing it a few times. This is the purpose of the course. The training works. It should be mandatory for everyone flying offshore in a helicopter. It is super-valuable training!