News: Pilots learn crash survival at ASTC
Story by Lance Cpl. Paul E. Wyatt
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. – While the safety of naval aviation is improving, the possibility of emergency situations is always there. That’s why Marine and Navy pilots and flight crews learn to survive in a variety of emergency situations at Aviation Survival Training Center Cherry Point.
The training center teaches the Naval Aviation Survival Training Program to Marines and Sailors whose jobs require them to work in aircraft. The training is a three-day course for students going through the program the first time and two days for those taking it as a refresher course, which is required every four years.
The center conducts two survival training classes each week for pilots of every type of Navy and Marine Corps aircraft and tailors classes to students' needs, explained Chief Petty Officer Robert P. K. Craig, the division chief at the training center. For example, a student in a class for jet pilots do not use helicopter crews’ survival egress air tanks, which are personal underwater breathing devices that hold a minute or so of air, but they do have parachute training.
A class focused on helicopter pilots and crews spends more time training in the underwater emergency egress trainer, also known as the dunker, a simulated helicopter body that is dunked and flipped in a pool where the students train to exit quickly and safely.
Training for first-time students starts with classes on everything from low-pressure training to recognizing the signs of hypoxia, a lack of oxygen to the brain. Students also learn field first-aid techniques, said Craig.
The water survival training emphasizes the importance of reference points and the hand-over-hand technique, or putting one hand in front of the other to pull one’s self toward an exit, rather than kicking and trying to swim toward it. Chief Petty Officer Jason Vernier, the training center’s leading chief petty officer, emphasized the importance of the method.
“Imagine the inside of a helicopter crashing is like the inside of a van crashing,” Vernier said. “The van starts to topple and roll. If you don’t have a reference point, you’ll be tossed around inside of it and be unable to get out. That’s why hand-over-hand is important.”
While the training is intense, students like Maj. Jason Myers know the importance of the training.
“You don’t know how it will all affect you until you’ve been through it,” said the Osprey pilot.
A scenario all students must face is “Night Storm,” the course's culminating exercise.
The students start in the dunker with blacked-out goggles on. Once they find their way out, they swim one lap around the pool and inflate their life vests manually.
When the students’ life vests are inflated, the room is darkened and they form a ring by holding onto one another and work their way one-by-one into a life raft in the center of the pool. There, accountability is taken and the "storm" starts.
The storm is a tempest of spraying hoses, simulated helicopter down-draft and currents, all in a completely darkened room. The students in the raft activate a strobe light, signaling a notional rescue helicopter's spotlight, which leads them to a rescue basket. The students then swim to the basket against current and are hoisted out of the water one at a time to safety.
While the possibility of incidents occurring will always be there, with training such as this, pilots and aircrew can be more confident in their ability to get through it and live to fly another day.