As pilots we are subjected to all kinds of challenges, some minor and others life threatening. Now consider putting yourself in the following scenario. We were just lucky enough to survive a wheels down water landing in our brightly coloured amphibious aircraft, along with three of our best friends. Now scrambling madly through the pilots door of the inverted aircraft seconds after the crash we are lucky to reach the surface of the freezing cold water for a breath of air.
Thankfully all of our fellow aviation enthusiasts have safely egressed by following you out the exit and are now bobbing in a group around a set of silver upside down floats. With the damming evidence protruding upwards we grab onto one of the wheels for support and we all pull our selves to a dryer environment, then assess the situation.
There was frost on the dock planks and also aircraft which was tied securely last night while floating in the same body of water we now find ourselves. Our shivering and discomfort is a reminder of just how cold the water we are immersed in really is on this late fall afternoon. Soaked through sensing time is against us, and with the cold wind blowing our disabled ship even further from the shore that we most desperately need to reach we realize the gravity of the situation we are involved in. After a brief discussion we all agree that to wait for help in this predicament here at this remote location only hours before darkness would be suicide. The swimming distance for shore is a concern to all involved but in particular to one of our members who is a total non swimmer and extremely high anxiety. We decide someone must return down to the submerged aircraft we are floating on in hopes of securing one or more life vests located under the four seats. As captain of the ship and feeling responsible for the entire situation you elect to be the hero in hopes of saving the day and getting everyone back onto dry ground before night sets in.
Now in the frigid water once again you take a deep breath and dive down to the open pilot’s door and enter the aircraft flailing about feeling for seats and the hiding spot where life vests should be located. Things are confusing and strangely foreign with the limited vision plus mix of cold water and desperate need for another breath of air. After returning to the surface unsuccessful you are now more determined than ever and realize the importance those yellow PFD’s (personal floatation devices) if anyone is going to survive. This time you are numb from cold as you descend into the cock pit, now realizing the upside down seat easily exposes the much valued jacket stowed when you know where to look. Returning to the lake surface once again and desperate for air, you have managed to find the two front seat jackets and decide it best to share them equally rather than continue searching for the remaining back seats. Due to the exhaustive labor while searching frantically in the confined aircraft it has now taken a toll and mild hypothermia has set in.
Climbing back up on top of the floats is extremely difficult as your fingers are rendered useless from cold , thus it’s decided two castaways don the vests one of which being the non swimmer and all three join you for the swim to safety. A team effort is employed transferring the stranded aviators from peril to a warm cabin just in time as each individual has varying degrees of life threatening cold shock and hypothermia. Luckily the cabin was pre heated from the earlier departure that morning as everyone’s fingers are useless and constant shaking would make lighting a fire near impossible.
Looking back at this situation the out come could have been much different and less eventful if each person on board had been wearing an inflatable PFD. They are readily available at a reasonable cost and could have been inflated back when all were clear of the wreckage then heading to shore. Precious time in cold water which could take your life in 30 minutes is wasted when floatation devices are not on your body in the unlikely event of accidental ditching. The only thing worse than being without a floatation devise and having to swim to safety is being inside an aircraft with an inflated or positive floatation device restricting your Egress.
This story is from one of many incidents which happen all too often in Canada ever year. Bryan Webster is a 10.000 hour pilot actively flying a Beaver on the BC coast today. In 1977 he was a passenger involved in a water crash while the pilot attempted to avoid power lines draped over the Fraser River east of Vancouver. For questions or to enroll in the Aviation Egress Ditch training program contact – Bry the Dunker Guy at 1-877-GO-DITCH or per email: firstname.lastname@example.org