MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Although there are a thousand separate noises which surround him, he hears only his shallow breathing as his world is literally turned upside down. His friends to his left and right grab on to whatever they can in a desperate effort not to be thrown from the steel skeleton, its metal guts spiraling downwards. A sudden crash throws him from his seat and he lands to the floor, already wet from the flood of water acting as a harbinger to Davey Jones.
That is just one of many personal accounts of Marines and sailors who have conducted Modular Amphibious Egress Training, or more specifically, gone through the Helo Dunk.
An aircraft without wings, rotor or prop is destined to a quick crash, and that is exactly what the Helo Dunk is designed to do. Looking like a squat shell of a helicopter the contraption lifts trainees above a pool, simulates a helicopter in a death spin and submerges the shell underwater. Participants then must conduct the proper egress and recovery techniques to exit the shell.
“With this training, you don’t necessarily have to know how to swim,” said Ronald Welsh, chief instructor of the Camp Lejeune Training Center. “The course is designed to let the safety devices aid you in your egress from the aircraft.”
MAET is a two-day long course; the beginning of each day is a four-hour long classroom instruction and reorientation on the types of injuries that may be incurred, various pieces of safety equipment and egress procedures.
The latter half of each day is actual in-the-pool training where participants will undergo individual egress training, first without an underwater breathing apparatus and then with. Afterward groups of six will enter the shell to conduct the aircraft egress training.
“It looks easier than it really is; your orientation is completely thrown off and you have nothing but your touch to go by,” said Lance Cpl. Joshua DeForrest, assault gunner with 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division. “Every Marine should be required to do this training; you’ll be able to react as you should when in an amphibious crash situation.”
Although the MAET simulates proper egress techniques there is still a multitude of factors that can play into an amphibious aircraft crash. The indoor isolated pool drops the MAET shell at a slow speed and holds the shell underwater just enough for the submerging effect. In reality the aircraft would undoubtedly fall faster and the speed of submersion is left to the state of the water.
“Sea state dictates how long an aircraft stays afloat and upright,” said Welsh. “It could be up for a few minutes or start sinking a few seconds after contact. That is why we also teach a good deal of physics with our classes.”
The physics Welsh alludes to are Boyle’s Law and Charlie’s Law, wherein both expound upon the physics of compressed air. Welsh says that a breath of compressed air underwater expands in the lungs as they rise closer to the surface and the water pressure on the lungs lessen. If not taught proper breathing methods, the expanding air will push out of the lungs and divert to other areas of the body, thus incurring complications.
After all the classes and submersions, participants leave the MAET with not only proper amphibious egress training but also with a greater general experience of aircraft. After two days of continuous flips and spins underwater, the Marines and sailors build a greater reliance with egress skills as well as a building a platform for any additional aquatic training.
“This training reassures them and makes them more confident in aircrafts now that they know the proper egress procedures,” said Chris Deemer, instructor for the Camp Lejeune Training Center. “Just teaching it makes me feel better about flying; for these two reasons a lot of the (Marine Expeditionary Units) are making MAET mandatory.”
So the next time a helicopter submerges underwater, instead of panicking place one hand between your legs gripping the seat, reach back with the other to undo the window grommet, push the window out, unbuckle the seatbelt and egress.