Australian Advisory Stresses Underwater Escape Training

What prompted the notice was a fatality on March 14, 2018, in Western Australia. A Eurocopter EC135 helicopter hit the water at night while on a trip to collect a marine pilot from a departing ship.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has issued a safety advisory notice and has contacted all helicopter operators conducting overwater operations about it. The notice stresses the importance of frequent helicopter underwater escape training (HUET) for air crew members and regular passengers to increase survivability in the event of an in-water accident or ditching.

What prompted the notice was a fatality on March 14, 2018, in Western Australia. A Eurocopter EC135 helicopter hit the water at night while on a trip to collect a marine pilot from a departing ship. A pilot, recently employed by the operator, was flying the helicopter under the supervision of a training and checking pilot. Shortly before midnight, the helicopter was operating near the ship when it descended and hit the water. The training and checking pilot escaped from the helicopter and was rescued a short time later, but the other pilot was not found. On March 17, the helicopter wreckage was located on the seabed and the missing pilot was found inside it.

ATSB said its investigation is continuing. The training and checking pilot had completed a HUET course within the previous three years; the pilot under check had completed a HUET course, but it was conducted nine years ago.

HUET training familiarizes crew and passengers with the crash environment and gives them confidence in their ability to cope with an emergency situation. Interviews with survivors from helicopter accidents requiring underwater escape frequently mention they considered that HUET had been very important in their survival, according to ATSB, and that the training provided reflex conditioning, a behavior pattern to follow, and reduced confusion and panic.

The training involves a replica of a helicopter cabin and fuselage being lowered into a swimming pool and rolled inverted to simulate a crash situation. During the training, students practice bracing for impact, identifying primary and secondary exit points, escaping the helicopter, and surfacing techniques.

ATSB's Executive Director of Transport Safety, Nat Nagy, said, "In light of our initial investigation, the ATSB has contacted all helicopter operators that are involved in overwater operations to deliver a safety advisory notice. The ATSB strongly recommends that air crew and regular passengers on these sorts of operations receive training in under water escape to increase survivability in the event of a ditching such as this one."

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