Francis Meyrick

Of Helicopters and Humans (26A) Helo Underwater Escape (Part 1)

Posted on April 19, 2014

Helo Underwater Escape

Part 1: Playing Submarine

It’s a touchy, sensitive subject.
It happens a lot. Too often. People surviving the unscheduled helicopter arrival on a surface of water, perfectly well. Not a scratch. Not a bump. Then, the choppy rolls over, or sinks. And some of the poor guys drown. Some get out. How come?
That’s so just not right. It’s like pulling your ripcord, floating down on your beautiful parachute, landing on a Freeway, and getting splattered by a texting Hockey DAD (notice, no feminist joke here) on the way to the junior baseball game. It seems outrageous. Cruel and wanton, even by the capricious standards of LADY Luck.

(I know, I know…) (cheap shot)

I had flown over water extensively, crossing to mainland Europe from the UK, and back to green Leprechaun country from Wales. Many times. I had never even thought about escape training. I just assumed, well, hell, you get out. Right?


My first under water escape training (of many, many) was horrific. No, I understate that. It was a total nightmare. When you start approaching 60 degrees North in latitude, the water gets to be Baltic cold. You wear full size rubber condoms, and you discover the joys of itches you can’t get to. No scratching possible. Bad, believe me. Very bad. Marinating in your own farts. Taking a simple call of Nature… well, it’s not too bad if the toilet cubicle is designed by a REAL architect. As opposed to the all-too-common, myopic, idiotic MORON on the twenty-seventh floor of some sky-scraper, with brains to burn, but no common sense. So there you are, following the dream, flying helicopters, trying to de-robe in a tiny cubicle, with no room to even swing your elbows out. (forget about trying to swing a cat). In a hell of a hurry of course. After that awful curry the night before…
I have a theory that most toilet cubicles on drilling rigs, barges, flotels and platforms are designed by the ubiquitous, angry Midget. Getting his own back, for a life time of being laughed and stared down at. Most of these drilling and rig workers are big, porky guys. They wear heavy coveralls that take some getting on and off. And then, when they gotta go, all they have available is this cramped match box. I swear… Actually, I heard a rumor the Midget’s sadistic cousin works for Sikorsky Helicopter Company, and had something to do with designing rotor discs… but I could be wrong. You sensible armchair helicopter pilots who don’t understand what I’m saying, just think of a Sikorsky S-76 with a very low front edge to the rotor disc. Kind of head height. Get it? (with in-sincere apologies to Sikorsky Engineers).


Anyway, underwater escape training is a must. I pretended I wasn’t worried about. No biggie. You’re going into where you get wet, and then they are going to smack it around under water, roll it upside down… no biggie.

I do that every morning showering before breakfast…

So… I went ahead. Seemed okay at first. When asked who were the swimmers and non-swimmers, I honestly told them I was a weak swimmer. My PADI Divemaster training, and my Tropical scuba diving adventures were still way off in the future. So I got this red bathing cap thing to put on. There were a few of us Red Hats, and the rest were White Hats. A bit like the old Western movies, I suppose. The White hats were the good guys. We were the dumb bad guys, feeling sheepish.
So, Round One. They put me beside this HUGE main exit. The door wasn’t even on. Me and another Red Hat. The rest of the guys have to sit beside these poky windows. Cool.
Not cool. Cold. Sinks down four feet. My head is still above water. I can breath. Easy. Just splash on out. Pretend it was difficult. The instructors are watching me.

Do they already know I’m gonna be trouble?

Round two. Splash! Sinks down to where my head is underwater. I hold breath. Grab door frame. Undo seatbelt. Easy enough. Out you go. Up to surface. Pretend it was difficult. The instructors are watching me.
Round Three. Not fair. I have to take my turn at one of the poky windows. I much preferred the main exit, all twenty foot wide. Instead of that poky port hole. Oh, well. Splash! Down we go. I have a good grip on the window sill, as per orders. It’s not nice, but I do it right. Well, right-ish. I have some trouble wriggling out of the window. But I manage it. I’m pretty slim. How do those 280 pound Porky-Butt Boys possibly manage this?? Anyway, I did it. Can I go home now?

Hell, no.
(I could have been a librarian)

Round Four. Disaster Time. I’m getting really, really cold. Something tells me BAD is coming my way. Call it a premonition. They are going to hit the water harder (they tell us), and then ROLL the torture device inverted. What!? Come on. This is a BAD idea. I look around suspiciously. But I don’t see any angry, sadistic midgets. Maybe he works in the office. It seems kind of unnecessary. Cruelty to Man. Can’t we just agree not to roll over in a real emergency?


That WAS harder. Lots of bubbles. A pause. Maybe they’ve changed their minds? That would be nice? No! WALL-LOP! Over we go. Lots more bubbles. I do NOT like this. No, I positively HATE this. I’m upside down, trying to remain calm. Okay, this thing has stopped rolling. I took a deep breath before. So I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. The drill? Yes, the drill? Oh, THAT drill. I grab the tiny port hole window sill, and undo my seatbelt. But my grip on the window sill is too weak. Instantly, not only do I lose my grip, I also FLOAT up to the ceiling, what used to be the floor. It’s a Cardiac Caniption moment. Looking DOWN at the microscopic window, struggling to get DOWN to it, unable to do so, because my stupid buoyancy won’t let me. I can only hold my breath SOOOO long…
Now what!? I know I COULD have been a librarian…!!

I’m running out of air now. I’m going to drown. What happens now? I’m completely out of ideas…?? Religion…?

A face appears at the window. A beautiful face. One of the most beautiful faces I have ever seen in all my life. I shall remember that fabulous face. For the rest of my life. No, not some big-breasted, red-nippled, blond hair flaunting, blue-eyed exquisite Norse female. Not some heart throb. Just a bearded, wrinkly, bronzed, incredibly competent looking diver. He looks up at me. I know exactly what he sees. A dumb Klutz. Me. Dufus, who let go of the sill, and who doesn’t know what he’s doing. With these HUGE, plate-size, pleading PUPPY EYES.

Beautiful Face reaches in, and grabs me. I won’t tell you where. I don’t care. I surrender to his grip. Instant attraction. I think he’s wonderful. Just get me OUTTA HERE! In a nano second I’m hauled out the window, and dragged up to the surface. Where I proceed to gasp and splutter, like a wet poodle, and make all kinds of terminal noises. He’s very nice. Solicitous. He asks: “Are you alright?”


They take me over to the side, and are very attentive to me. I, for my part, ungratefully, am thinking murderous thoughts. After a rest, I am asked if I’m okay again. I try and think of a suitable, dry comment. After all that water I swallowed.


They assure me that won’t be necessary. And here we go again.
Round FOUR. RE-PEAT. Voluntarily. Because you MESSED IT UP. Get in the damn thing AGAIN. Same-same. Hold on to that sill for dear LIFE. Beautiful face is hovering outside. I love him. As long as he stays RIGHT THERE.
This time I pass. Cool. I learned something. Can I go home now?
Nope. The Grand Finale. As the Froggies say: The “Piece de Resistance”. Same-same, but once you roll over, the sadistic gremlin gets to SWITCH THE LIGHTS OUT. Are you kidding me? Are you totally nuts? I’m gonna “Piece” myself alright. No “Resistance” there at all.
Round SIX, STAGE FIVE. (cos’ I messed one up) I’m there. Upside down. I have a DEATH GRIP on the window sill. I am totally OBSESSED with holding on to that window sill. It is the ENTIRE PURPOSE of my LIFE, to hold on to that window sill. I am having an INTENSE, spiritual experience. Once we have stopped rolling over, and sinking, and blowing bubbles, there seems to be a long, interminable pause. The lights are still on. Did they forget? Are they going to have mercy?
Nope. Darkness rules. The Sadistic Midget in the office has switched the lights out. I HATE this. This is total, unmitigated insanity. (If I survive this, I’m going to be a librarian. Shuffle around all day, whispering “SSSSSShhhhhhh…!” I can do that. I know I can)
I do the drill. I would like to say I do it in a calm manner, real cool, like. I would like to say that. Sounds much more masculine. You think I was cool? You think? I’ve been shot at, and I’ve been cooler. I’d much rather get shot at. Somehow, frantically, eyes-like-saucers, bubbles everywhere, frantic, kicking, wriggling, struggling, freaking out… I get to the surface. Gasp for air. Beautiful face is beside me. “Are you all right?”, he asks. This time, I’m too tired and fed up to even think of a cool, withering comment. Anyway, I’m still blowing out water, and gasping, and savoring Life. What a HELL of a way to make a living.

A few minutes later, after trying to climb onto various inflatable rafts (and falling off) (multiple times) and after jumping off a fifteen foot dive board (they said I didn’t have to do that one, if I wasn’t comfortable) (but I was getting into this sado-masochism thing, you know) we are all standing on the cold tiles beside the pool. Hypothermic. Not caring anymore. Resigned. Fatalistic. If they asked us to stick our heads in the freezer for half an hour, or a thousand Watt microwave, I would have gone and done it. Total dis-interest. No more fighting spirit. Just total Zombie state. Duh…

I have to ask. You know, I was always the runt of the litter, in terms of intellect. I am shivering so uncontrollably, that it takes a tremendous effort to formulate words.
“Sc-Sc-Sc… SCUSE me, but do you guys deliberately make the pool that fu-fu- fu#@k’n cold, so we can get a feel for what sea temperatures are like if we really splash in?”
“Oh, no”, comes the answer. “We’re just saving on electricity. The Power Bill, you know…”

????? Steam

Indignation probably registers on my icicle encrusted face. They go on, nicely, to explain the actual sea temperatures we will be flying over, and the temperature in the marginally heated swimming pool. The difference is awesome. Way, way into double figures. The frigid pool is WAY warmer. Almost like a sauna, compared with…
We Red Hats just look at each other. I know exactly what we’re all thinking. The same, unspoken thought.

“if we go in, for real….”
“We’re fu#@ked…”

(to be continued)

Francis Meyrick

Last edited by Francis Meyrick on April 19, 2014, 10:22 am

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