Aircraft Ditching Myths – Common Misconceptions

Ditching2011 U.S. Coast Guard Video Screenshot

Common Myths About Ditching An Aircraft


2011 U.S. Coast Guard Video Screenshot

Ditching Myths, written by Bryan Webster –  In my years as Egress instructor I have had some interesting questions posed to me, as well a number of misguided pilots explaining how they would personally handle a ditching. The reality is there is only seconds to react after a ditching, followed by complete inversion, before the overwhelming reaction to being entrapped is unleashed. About that time the animal instinct to survive becomes paramount, demanding you find an air supply immediately.

To have no predetermined escape plan for you and your passengers complicates an already extremely challenging situation while the clock rapidly dictates some sort of action towards either a positive or negative outcome. To have previously experienced a similar event in a warm pool facility – should this ever happen to you – will prove that the results are a mirror image for the success rate of those trained vs. those untrained.

By knowing what to do and what to expect from previous Egress training, plus having been in the water practicing life vest procedures (remembering to take one with you on the way out) proves a major advantage. There are many reasons why people are reluctant to take part in egress training. These are ranging from fear of water to claustrophobia or simply not wanting to be seen as incapable of handling the scenario by ones peers. In Egress Training programs each individual has strengths and weaknesses, thus as a group we foster camaraderie and work with each person to achieve confidence and reach their highest personal potential.

Here are some of my favorite ditching myths:

Myth # 1: Simply Follow The Bubbles!

The most common but gravely wrong plan would be to simply watch your air bubbles once entrapped inverted and proceed to safety. The problem associated with this idea is the obvious and at best poor visibility when under water, and the possibility of silty water conditions or complete darkness. Also you are giving up a percentage of the already limited air supply held in your lungs, which can not be replenished or may not be enough for you create this indicator. To add to the scenario, what if the aircraft is pointing nose down and you find yourself in the rear of the cabin totally disoriented and unable to locate the now illusive door handles behind and below you.

Myth # 2: Just Stay Calm And Get Out!

Number two and another favorite idea is that a calm and collected individual will open the exit and just vacate the premises with ease – or failing that – easily kick out a window and swim to safety. I find most of theses personalities are covering their actual fear of water or participation in training with an arrogant attitude. Pilots who refuse to entertain even thinking about what should be done in any aircraft emergency, are not only endangering themselves but also anyone they fly with. Soon after a person as mentioned above is enrolled in Egress Training and actively participating signs of uncertainty and concerns regarding the program appear. Once training is completed an admission of previous over all anxiety is replaced with a new-found respect and understanding of why Egress training is offered.

Myth # 3: Just Fly High Enough To Reach Land!

Number three being when flying over water, to just climb high enough to reach land should a problem arise and simply return to a suitable clearing on shore as a glider if necessary. This is a good plan until you overnight at the opposite end of your journey and Mother Nature swaps CAVOK for 500 feet obscured and 1 Mile and now you have to be at work in less than an hour. About then you are informed by your traveling companions they also have commitments and thus just this once you must break your safety net, exercised the day before. You could also be a seaplane pilot and fly and land or take off on water all the time.

Myth # 4: Just “Hoover” The Plane In Such Ways As To Avoid The Flip!

Number four – and my personal favorite of all times –  was explained to me while trying to sell this new Egress Training Program several years ago at an aerobatic flight training center. The owner and head instructor stated emphatically that his plan – should he be faced with a ditching – would be to roll inverted and enter the water with the landing gear pointing skyward. In his mind this flight condition would avoid the anticipated flip caused by wheels making contact with the surface and dragging its nose downward. Considering this as an alternate procedure to the upright entry, he may have wanted to consider an impact at or above 60 mph similar to a convertible automobile with his head exposed. The very fact that most aircraft windshields are constructed of light Plexiglas – which will most likely depart or break on impact – would be enough to deter me. How many pilots do you know who could pull a maneuver like this in an already stressful situation? After researching this misconceived maneuver I was unable to find any information substantiating its merits as no one has ever tried it. That’s – in part –  why I would not want to be the first. So, these where four debunked myths about safely ditching airplanes, hopefully helping those who are yet to experience it to be able to tell a story about it, later.

In my next column here, I’ll share a Real Life Egress Story with you.

Bryan Webster is a 12.000 + hour pilot actively flying on the BC coast today. In 1977 he was a passenger involved in a water crash while the pilot attempted to avoid power lines draped over the Fraser River east of Vancouver. He owns and operates – Aviation Egress Training Systems, headquartered in Victoria, BC, Canada. For questions or to enroll in the Aviation Egress Ditch Training Program contact – “Bry the Dunker Guy” at 1-877-GO-DITCH or per email: [email protected]

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