Francis Meyrick

Of Helicopters and Humans (26B) Helo Underwater Escape (Part 2)

Posted on April 19, 2014

Politically Incorrect – but did it get your attention?

Of Helicopters and Humans (26B)

Helo Underwater Escape – Part 2

Some Thoughts on Monty Python, and the Drill Sergeant. And getting the passengers engaged.

After my first Helicopter Dunking Experience, and my rather in-glorious Red-Hat Numpty performance, the years rolled on by. We tiny ants continued our regular elliptical orbit around our medium sized Sun. Space Ship Earth, lost in the fringes of some minor Galaxy, continued stoically on. I tried, for my part, to be a good crew member. I wasn’t always successful, but then who is? I tried.
My wanderings took me around our little planet, and I was always curious.
I did more escape training, and I started scuba diving. I learned to swim, reasonably well. A full stage above a doggie paddle, anyway. I could manage a steady, if unspectacular breast stroke, (don’t be scruffy, now) and I was relaxed swimming on my back. I could also tread water, and I used to wonder in what advanced sea state I would still be able to survive. I simply became much happier in the water. Scuba diving was wonderful. I did a whole bunch of training courses, and eventually earned my PADI DiveMaster rating.
So I offer some thoughts which you can take with the proverbial spoon, if you so wish.

(Did I just mangle somebody’s proverb?)

Anyway, a pinch of salt goes nowhere in the middle of the ocean, and pilots being pilots, you will never get a consensus on underwater escape training. But I have my reservations about the way we approach the subject with our passengers. Those boys are our bread-and-butter. They represent our mortgage payments. If they didn’t regularly treck out offshore, to manage Gas and Oil and huge steaks, then we Choppy Truckers would starve. Do we treat the subject as well as we should? I ask you that question.

How about Passenger Briefing? Yes, how about it?

A lot of very talented and knowledgeable people have gone to great lengths to produce really fine safety movies. Complete with music. And print-outs. Special effects. And a lot of choppy Presidents and Owners have spent large $$$ amounts of dollars investing in these videos and hand-outs. And they have employed Safety Consultants, and Risk Management Personnel. A lot of people are trying. Hard.
Yet we still see it -repeatedly- go terribly wrong. Just look at these recent awful accidents and drownings in the North Sea. Why is that? I’ve had friends drowned in helicopters. When you hear that, you think: Say, What…? Why do some people escape, and some not?
Why do some people do the drill, and some not??
I don’t know. I don’t pretend to know. I just wonder if…

Look at it this way: are people really going to listen, prior to the flight, to some recorded voice, droning on. And on. And on? When they have heard that recorded voice drone a million times? Saying the same thing? The exact same thing? Boring With very little humor? Or zero humor? (God forbid!) (not allowed; this is serious) Boring
When they get on the choppy, and IF the pilots play some audio tape (a big IF?), is it even AUDIBLE over the static and hiss? The rumble and thump and whine of a whoppy turning? I have my doubts. I have been a passenger in small and large helicopters, and I’ve been amazed how IN-audible the recorded flight briefing was. How NOBODY was even TRYING to listen. It was a ritual. A ceremony. Mumbo-Jumbo. A requirement. Hardly a thunder bolt.
It might LOOK GOOD to have all that stuff. It might look good to CEO’s and Insurance Companies, and Regulators, and industry Watch Dogs, and the Great-Grand-Pooh-Bah sitting on the twenty-seventh floor of Ivory Tower Number Five… but… really?
You know what I think? This humble worm, who, one day, MIGHT learn that “Silence is Golden”? Fools rush in where angels… get their feet muddy? I think we need VARIETY and HUMOR. And the BEST guy to deliver that, is the dude behind the controls. Immediately prior to the flight. So, I’m not pretending this is everybody’s cup of tea, and I’m not pretending it’s a solution, and I’m not pretending it’s politickle-ally correct (PC). I’m just saying…

Get the passengers engaged. Duh. Yes

So, you climb in to my helicopter. Note the possessive. The legal title of that choppy may belong to some fancy helicopter Company somewhere, but when it’s flying, or turning and burning, believe me, it’s MINE. My baby. I’m the Captain. And you, honorable sir, the passenger, are MY mortgage payment. I love you, you ugly S-O-B. And I want you to feel completely happy to be on board MY bird. In fact, as far as humanly possible, I want all the Supremely-Onorable-Bods who climb in beside or behind me, to go away saying basically good things about me. Bad news travels fast. Good news travels molasses slowly. But if I try real hard, there is a chance the good word slowly reaches certain people. Other S-O-B’s. Who have phone numbers. To certain people. Who can get ME fired. I tend to think that the more bonus points you can collect, the more good words you can engender, the better. Because in the Choppy Business, no matter how good you and I might like to think we are, you just never know. When the day comes, that you’re facing the Tribunal. You’ve gone and messed up, and now your Fate hangs in the balance. Will the Good points you collected conceivably help, now you’ve just gone and… ? The famous pooch? Maybe. We can only hope. So I try hard. Knowing how easy it is to drop the ball. Do terrible, unmentionable things to that yappy mutt.

A personal briefing is really not hard to do. Many pilots I know admit they hate it. They avoid it like the plague. But why? It can be fun. You can vary it. Make it up a bit as you go along. Ad-lib. So you just climbed in behind me. You don’t know me from Adam. I’m just some dumb sadist they pay to get you H-O-M-E. That’s all you are thinking about. And you are worried about the wife’s spending, the teenage daughter’s ugly looking boy friend (with a glint in his eye), and young Bradley’s pet Pitbull puppy. Oh, and the mortgage is due. Son, just get me home…
I understand completely. But, dear S-O-B, with everything on your mind, if, all of a sudden, you are under water, will you be simply surprised? Or totally staggered? Will you remember the drill? Your underwater escape training a year ago? Two years? More? Really?
So, the dude behind the controls just turned around. He’s looking back into the cabin. He’s grinning. Old dude. He asks: “Everybody happy in the back?”
Nice of him to ask. Many pilots do not. Yeah, we’re happy. Just take us home, Cap.
But he’s not finished.
“Okay, guys, quick safety brief…”
You groan. Not another boring lecture. Your mind switches off. Vaguely, in the background, you hear him going on about the need to approach and depart the helicopter with the pilot’s permission, and to keep you seat belt fastened. No portable electronic devices…
Your mind is far away. Other things on your mind. Yawn
“I want you to know I have no direct mechanical linkage to the engine. It’s all electronic blips. So if you sneak out your I-phone, and your blips switch off the engine, we will NOT be pleased with you…”
(Huh? Oh! Really? So that’s why we can’t use them. Didn’t know that. That makes sense…)
Your mind has somewhat detached itself from young Bradley’s pet Pitbull.
“Please do not walk through the tail rotor. It involves everybody in a lot of paper work, and it looks bad on your resume…”
There’s amusement now. People are listening. (Yeah, ain’t that the truth.)
“Same for the main rotor blades. Beware if you are carrying long objects, pipes, fishing poles…”
(Yeah, that’s for sure.)
“In the extremely unlikely event that we have to land on one of those waves out there, we will have plenty of choice…”
More amusement. (Damn right.)
“After we land, and we’re floating, expect to hear me tell you DO NOT OPEN THE DOORS. That’s because I have to inflate the life rafts, and that takes a little while. If you open the door, and the life raft wraps around the door, we will not be pleased with you…”
(Yeah, okay, makes sense.)
“Now, if at any stage of this flight, you look out the window, and you observe FISH looking at you, what does that mean?”
“It could be a Red Snapper, a Barracuda, or, if you are lucky, a big breasted red-nippled Mermaid. Regardless, ask yourself what this means…” (pause)
(Double Huh!?)
“It means you are UNDER WATER… action is required on your part. As follows: Open the door First, grab the outside of the helicopter (I like to grab the top of the door), and ONLY THEN UNDO YOUR SEAT BELT. RESIST THE TEMPTATION to undo your seatbelt FIRST. Because if you DO, you WILL discover the hard way that you CANNOT open the door. Your body will twist all over the place, and you cannot exercise the LEVERAGE required. So make sure you open the door FIRST, grab the outside of the helicopter, and only THEN undo your seatbelt. And out you pop…”
(That makes sense. Never quite thought of it that way)
“Life raft inflation toggles are located on the front landing gear legs. Relax, and enjoy the flight!”

* * * * *

I’ve tended to ad-lib it as I go along. You’ll never get the exact same briefing twice. Now here’s the funny thing. It amazes me how often I’m told:
1. “Good briefing, Cap”.
2. “Thanks for the briefing!”
3. “First time I’ve had a pilot personally brief me. I like that”.
And often enough, the conversation after take-off, in the cruise, comes back to the subject of that briefing. In my bird, there is always one guy in the back who has a headset with an intercom, and the passenger beside you also has intercom capability. Frequently, the passenger beside you has some degree of authority. The bosses often like to get in beside the pilot.
Time and time again, passengers have told me that they “never quite thought of things the way I explained them “. And they had been flying in helicopters for xxxx years. Time and time again, after the conversations, I have been left with the pretty shrewd suspicion that in the event of a REAL EMERGENCY, without my briefing, the guys would have handled the escape incorrectly.
Now that suspicion I have is backed up by many accident reports. Both on the North Sea (recently) and in the Gulf of Mexico, you can read the accident reports. Some guys doing it RIGHT, and getting out. Other guys doing it WRONG, and not getting out. And also terribly trapping guys trying to follow out behind them…

Now when you think of all these chaps telling me that they had “never quite thought about it ” that way, you have to ask how many “formal briefings” they watched or heard over the years. Hundreds and hundreds, probably. How is it possible that so many people still panic and undo their seat belt first? Flailing arms and legs uncontrollably? Failing to escape, and also obstructing the guys trying to follow along behind?

1) I suspect RECENCY is a huge factor. My passengers have had a personal briefing right before the flight. If something happens fifteen minutes down the road… Pray that they remember.
2) I suspect the Question-and-Answer Style is much more… Engaging?
“Now, if at any stage of this flight, you look out the window, and you observe FISH looking at you, what does that mean?”
“It could be a Red Snapper, a Barracuda, or, if you are lucky, a big breasted red-nippled Mermaid. Regardless, ask yourself what this means…” (pause)
(Double Huh!?)

I think it may not sound stiff-upper-lip rigidly ‘professional’, but it gets results. It gets guys thinking. So many “professional” videos are monotone lectures. Sleep inducing. Sleep Hellish boring. Why can’t we have a FUNNY alternate video? I’m thinking, well, have your existing “approved” safety videos, but once in a while, throw out a refreshing change. A Monthy Python type Sketch. Some frizzy haired, crazy looking dude, with an eyepatch, who yells:

WHAT-YA-GOTTA- DO when the FISH looks AT YOU??? Bye


Or you could model it on that Drill Sergeant we see on Television. It would be funny, and magnificently educational. I believe it would have positive results. JACKASS!

Take 1: You could film it from the inside, UNDER WATER. And you could have some Monty Python character deliberately undo his seatbelt first, float all around the cabin, bumping in to everybody else, impeding THEIR emergency egress (like what happens in reality!), and you could have him exaggeratedly grabbing hold of another Monthy Python type character. In other words, a complete cluster “F”. Then he rolls towards the camera, with an expression of “oh, hell, Mummy!” on his face.
Take 2: Again, from the inside, same characters, doing it right.
Even if you didn’t want to go as far as the screaming Drill Sergeant, at least change the briefing format to much more of a Question-and-Answer style, and I think the correct and incorrect procedures filmed (with skilled actors) from under water, would be truly excellent.

Just my one-and-one-half cent’s worth..

I know, Silence is Golden. Leave it to the professionals. Worship

Who? Huh!? Doesn’t that include us? Speaking


Francis Meyrick

Last edited by Francis Meyrick on April 19, 2014, 1:20 pm

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