Strap yourself in – We’re going under!

Learning what to do after the machinery you’re strapped into hits water can save your life.

Mick Dowling, LifeFlight’s Helicopter Underwater Escape Training (HUET) Manager, devotes his career to teaching a wide range of professionals from construction workers through to media crews on what to do in the critical seconds after a ditching accident.

It’s important work – because it can mean the difference between life and death.

When a helicopter crashes into the water, it is highly likely that it will roll over and water, fuel, oil and debris will begin to rush in. Sinking can occur at any time, often to depths incompatible with survival.

A review of over 400 people involved in helicopter crashes into water over a six year period showed a survival rate of 92% in those who had received HUET as opposed to 80% in those who had not. Statistics have also revealed that there is a high chance of surviving the impact, survival after impact is further improved with HUET training, providing the skills to get out of the submerged aircraft.

It all about staying orientated, this can be done by using references, and following simple procedures. If this is practiced and you can hold your breath for a short period of time, your chances of survival become much higher,” Mick said. 

All of these skills are covered in a one-day nationally accredited course, offered nationally by LifeFlight.

Participants on the course are strapped into an Aircraft Underwater Escape Trainer “AUET” and lowered by crane into a pool.

The first scenario is an upright submersion were the trainees are required to operate a primary exit to egress. As the training continues extra elements are added, the AUET is rotated underwater to 180 degrees, blind folds are added and toward the end of the training students are required to egress through a secondary exit, simulating their primary exit is blocked, this scenario requires them to move across the cabin to a secondary exit, before egressing.

All LifeFlight trainees gaining a competency in HUET are expected to operate a variety of seatbelt and exit systems, this method has been proven to provide trainees with a high skill retention rate” Says Mick

 All RACQ LifeFlight Rescue crews need to undergo Helicopter Underwater Escape (HUET) training before they can work on the choppers. Watch some highlights from a recent day in the dunker below.

Upright submersion

An upright submersion. Two experienced safety divers are positioned either side of the AUET, they have access to quick release mechanisms, providing a safe training environment for all trainees.

Upside down this time. As the AUET rotates, trainees are required to maintain a solid brace position to aid in staying orientated, and to protect their limbs. Lots of bubbles and water up the nose during this phase can become distraction for some trainees.

Remaining safe after escape (surface huddle). LifeFlight's HUET course also provides education in all aspects of survival in a marine environment. The better prepared an individual is to meet the hostility of this environment the greater the chance of survival.