Get Out Alive! Egressing After A Ditching

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Get Out Alive! How To Get Out Of A Ditched & Submerged Aircraft


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Get Out Alive – Guest Editorial written and submitted by Bryan Webster — Most of us complete our piloting career without any ditching concerns. Others are not so lucky and unfortunately learn ditching procedures the hard way. Without any prior training or real-life lessons in ditching, it’s very difficult to understand why being inverted and underwater often leads to a traumatic experience.

The physiological responses to impact followed by an immediate immersion in water, with a temperature many degrees colder than your nice warm cockpit, is often totally overwhelming and not to rarely, lethal. Every year a number of pilots and their passengers find themselves totally unprepared and frantically searching for a door handle which was easily located only moments earlier.

Those who think swimming ability and diving experience will be sufficient to get them out of an aircraft after ditching will be amazed at how poorly they perform during the first few sessions in an egress simulator. Here’s a quick list of things you may wish to think about when considering the possibility of ditching your aircraft.


Presuming that you have enough warning, prepare the cabin for impact with the water by:

  • Tightening your seat-belts and shoulder harness
  • Unlatching the cabin doors.
  • Having passengers assume the brace position.


Once the airplane comes to a stop, it may be upside down. To orient yourself, stay seated and locate your exit. Then release your seat-belt and shoulder harness. This might be very difficult to do, hanging upside down.


On average, it takes only 15 seconds for total panic to set in after a ditching. Once your face goes underwater in the event an exit is not immediately located. Staying halfway calm in these circumstances is incredibly difficult to do and requires training.

Exit Jammed – Now What?

If a door becomes jammed after water impact and the aircraft is completely flooded, try opening any hinged window available, last resort kick out the Plexiglas. Remember that some airplanes will not allow you to open the rear door with flaps set for landing.

How much time do I have?

The time available before the aircraft sinks depends on the design and the damage incurred. Don’t think that near-empty fuel tanks will assist or extend your time on the surface.

Float Equipped Aircraft

Floatplanes often do not fully sink after becoming inverted, which often allows their occupants to use the float bottoms for support. But don’t count on this! Get into your PFD or into a life raft just as soon as possible (best do both). If still floating keels up, don’t even think about going back for your headset, valuables or anything that can be replaced by insurance.

Pilots Personal Flotation Device (PFD)

If the pilot isn’t wearing the PFD when ditching becomes imminent, he or she must remain in control of the aircraft until it comes to a stop. Stuff the PFD in your shirt or jacket to help ensure availability afterwards.

Survival Equipment

Avoid PFDs designed for recreational boaters. Instead carry inflatable PFD’s designed and approved for aviation, since other types may prevent egress due to buoyancy. Don’t inflate PFD until you’re clear of the aircraft. Any life-raft you carry should be certified and rated for more occupants than the aircraft can accommodate. It should be the first item to leave the aircraft and tethered to any occupant.

Consider adding an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) or at least a portable ELT to your equipment even if only incidental flying over water is planned.

These are just a few suggestions to help aid you in a successful egress if required. There is always an option to get training from experienced instructors and professionals. Those who have completed training, leave with a newfound appreciation for the challenges and the need for training. Remember, we never rise to the occasion in any emergency, we always act exactly within the scope of the training we have received. Put your best foot forward on this. Next week, I’ll cover seat-belts and shoulder harnesses.

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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