Ditching, Ditching, Ditching

Written by Brad Pendley
Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Photo of Brad Pendley.There is more to the May Survey than just counting waterfowl. The logistics of seeing a survey this big through is a daunting task. With teams of pilot-biologist and observers spreading out from Alaska to the Maritimes, it takes a lot of work just getting everyone ready. One of the most important tasks is making sure everyone is safe and trained.

While the USFWS does all it can to reduce them, there are some risks associated with flying the BPOP. After all, we are flying slow and low in some pretty remote areas. Many of us are in floatplanes and we often make water landings. This is where “ditching” training comes in. The term comes from not only the act but what is yelled out both during training and in real life should the need ever arise. Landing on water on far northern lakes with water just above freezing has its challenges. That said, we receive some of the best training available.

“Ditching training” is one such opportunity. Ditching training teaches us how to get out of plane when it is full of water and possibly inverted. This year, some of us had the chance to combine ditching with HEEDS training. HEEDS are breathing devices that allow some extra time if the worst case scenario plays out and you have to exit a plane when it is underwater.

The training consists of multiple tasks starting with a morning classroom session. Trainees then moved to a large pool with a plane’s fuselage on a giant winch system, as well as, small cages with a seat and door attached to the side. We started out with the cages being flipped upside down and going through the steps to exit. We then moved to the plane simulator where we were all buckled in and had to go through multiple dunks. Some simulations were as simple as going out the window with the lights on underwater. The most challenging simulation required an exit where we were on the HEEDS device, buckled in, in the dark, upside down, and with 30 mile an hour winds. The divers watched as we deployed our breathers, unbuckled, found our reference points and slid across the upside down seats to open the door on the other side and make a clean exit.

This training is one we all hope to never use, but it sure feels good to know I can get out of a plane filled with water, with my eyes literally closed. It adds some additional comfort those first few times we touchdown on a lake.

Submersible training fuselage.

Submersible training fuselage. Photo by Jim Wortham, USFWS

No way to stay dry in this!

No way to stay dry in this! Photo by Jim Wortham, USFWS