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Close Encounter of the Watery Kind

After a fun day of sun and sand, an outwardly pleasant excursion nearly came to a nasty end with undercurrents of aggravation leading to a small but potentially fatal error. I related the following story to Bryan Webster right after it happened, still feeling rattled that I could have ended up in the drink.

It can happen to anyone at any time, and you’d better know how to get out of the cockpit. You may not be as lucky as I was!

Flying is fun, and going by air for a picnic is one of life’s greatest pleasures.

Bob is a private pilot, and I have a commercial license, although we fly only for recreation. We have been flying together for eight years and are comfortable with each other as pilots. We made our plans; I’d fly outbound to our destination, a little airstrip about 90 minutes away, we’d have lunch on the warm sandy beach nearby, and he’d fly us back to our home airport.

Just before our departure, a young, newly licensed pilot asked if he could go with us. Why not? The more the merrier! Off we went with “the kid” in the back seat of the C172. We’d been flying since he was in Pampers…

Several hours later, we were back at our base on a long final, beautifully set up by Bob. The approach took us over a wide stretch of water; the VASI lights shone red over white as we glided in, throttled back to near idle—a perfect approach. Just as we crossed the numbers, the propeller stopped turning!

Engine failure!

We were surprised but not scared because we were about to touch down anyway. We landed normally and rolled off the active.

The cause of the failure was, as usual, fuel starvation. But why? Well, as usual, it was pilot error; during the pre-taxi, Bob had omitted one little step of the checklist – the step where the fuel selector is switched to “Both” after having run the engine on “Left” and “Right”. We had made the return flight using the fuel in just one tank, and by pure good fortune, it had run dry a few seconds before landing.

Although this particular incident had a happy ending, the really scary thing is that it might have resulted in a watery death for three people. Many high-hours professional pilots have met their end by the fuel selector switch mistake. Luckily for us, the engine ran out of fuel just before touchdown; in fact, the prop may have been windmilling for some seconds before it actually stopped turning. Had the tank run dry just 60 seconds sooner, we would have been another mile or more out – over the water at a low altitude. Even if the cause of the engine failure had been quickly diagnosed, switching over the fuel selector, restarting and getting the plane flying again would have taken too much time.

In this case, when the aircraft strikes the water, it noses over, leaving the occupants upside down in their seat belts, disoriented and in a panic.

This horrible scenario made me realize just how important it is to learn how to escape from a submerged cockpit. Despite having known “Bry the Dunker Guy” for over 20 years, I had never taken his submerged aircraft fuselage egress (S.A.F.E.) training course. I had watched him develop his methods and get Aviation Egress Systems (AES) started about 10 years ago.

I was in the cheering section when Bryan won the 2007 Transport Canada Aviation Safety Award for his exceptional commitment to underwater egress training for pilots. I had personally promoted the course to all my pilot pals, pointing out how much water there is in our area and how you never know when something could go wrong. Despite all that and even the offer of taking the course for free, I had not done it! Did I consider myself too good a pilot ever to end up in the water? What was I thinking?!

As we taxied in, the kid in the back seat rather gratuitously informed us that “fuel on both” was part of the pre-take-off check. Bob zipped his lip, and I became aware that our passenger had played a part in the string of events that had led up to a moment of distraction and the missing of a step in the checklist.

As a devotee of Tony Kern, author of Flight Discipline, I find an analysis of the lead-up to an incident quite fascinating – it is frightening to know how easily even the most experienced pilots can be diverted from their tasks by seemingly innocuous events.

So, what exactly contributed to a moment of carelessness that might have had fatal consequences?

All three of us had a hand in it. The kid vanished just as we were ready to depart the airstrip. A quarter-hour ticked by before we found him and got him into the plane. We had filed a flight plan, and our take-off time was now delayed. Hurry, hurry with the checklist; make up for the 15 minutes lost. For my part, I had failed to realize how irritated Bob was with the hold-up and kid’s non-stop advice– the lad had all the wisdom of a 60-hour pilot!

If I had gone through the pre-taxi checks with him instead of turning to the back seat and scolding the kid for delaying us, it is unlikely we would have missed the “fuel on both” step. Strangely, on the return flight, I glanced over at the fuel gauges and noticed the right tank needle on E while the left was showing half full. All that crossed my mind was that the damned things didn’t work, and I concentrated on the gyroscopic precession that was going uncorrected.

Bob and I hardly spoke during the flight, but the kid kept up his chatter, and my partner gritted his teeth harder all the while! The final straw was the dead stick landing.

 – One Lucky Lady

Aviation Egress Training for Pilots and Passengers

For many aviators, the prospect of crashing into the water is one of their biggest fears. If you fly over water, we highly recommend you take our two-part Egress Training Course. You’ll learn how to effectively exit a sinking aircraft and how to help your passengers get out safely. Our courses have been developed and refined over 24 years, ensuring that each student receives the highest level of training possible.

Dry Egress Training

Our Dry Egress Training is a comprehensive computer-based course to teach pilots and passengers the basics of egressing an aircraft. This program can be completed anytime, anywhere, from the comfort of your own home, office or on the run. It will take approximately 3 hours to finish, and our students have a 14-day window to complete the material after registering.

Wet Egress Training

We run our WET egress courses across Canada throughout the year. Our training for private pilots is also approved by Transport Canada to satisfy the Canadian Aviation Regulations CARs 401.05(2)(a) Recency Requirement for recurrency training. We begin our half-day session with an introduction and review of the material covered in the DRY egress course and discuss the aircraft relevant to our students of the day. Next, we introduce students to disorientation and exiting, as well as PFDs, life-raft skills, buoyancy, rescue exercises, plus a variety of underwater scenarios. Then we enter the pool for hands-on practical training.

More information is available on our course page or by contacting us.

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Winter Flying Preparation for Float Plane Pilots

Aircraft crashed into ice

You’re flying at 2,000 feet on a sunny day in January, and then, for no obvious reason, your engine quits. After investigating and trying to restart, you realize that you have no choice but to land on the frozen lake below. Luckily, the landing is perfect; you even manage to get close to shore near the woods. Were you well prepared? Let’s see. In this article, you’ll learn more about winter flying preparation, including essential survival gear you should have on board, how to stay warm, and how to be found during an emergency.

Make sure someone knows where you are

Naturally, you did file a flight plan, right? Do you have a “spot“ or equivalent?

No Flight plan. Does your neighbour or friend know that you were to be back by 16:00? Naturally, they are well versed in who to call for search and rescue, correct? The difference between having backup and not having one could lead to an extended outdoor experience. Sleeping in the bush one night or more can be fun if you’re prepared for the occasion. So now, first try to establish radio contact to get help or activate SPOT on emergency or turn on your ELT if you never acquired a“Spot”. Or another emergency locator.

In this case, it was a perfect landing.

There is no injury to take care of, but if the landing had been hard or in a bush area with rocks, then injuries may have become the priority.

Winter Flying Preparation: Essential survival gear

It is now time to do an inventory. In your pockets, do you have matches or a lighter of some sort? Before leaving, did you gather up a couple of space blankets? How about a knife or multi-tool, whistle, compass, water, purifying tablets, heat pads, zip-lock bags or possibly energy bars?

You are lucky because you were dressed to spend the day/night in the bush if required.

In your gear, are there breathable long johns, insulated snow pants, good/warm winter boots, a dry T-shirt (not cotton*), an insulating sweater (wool or fleece) or a sleeveless fleece vest? You should be aware that cotton clothing keeps you warm by trapping warm air near your skin, and wet cotton ceases to insulate you because the air pockets in the fabric fill up with water. When you perspire, any cotton clothing touching your skin will absorb your sweat like a sponge, but air is colder than your body temperature, so saturated cotton does not provide any insulation, which may lead to hypothermia.

Know that nothing beats a good winter jacket with a hood made of breathable material and then later a heavier one for when you stop moving (or to sleep in). You also should have a pair of winter gloves plus some really thick heavy mittens in your pocket and a balaclava and sunglasses.

Once you are secured, it’s time to do an inventory of what survival equipment you have in the plane/helicopter.

Possibly an 8X10 plastic tarp for shelter and a tin cup to carry water and melt snow in or to boil water. How about some 16 gauge wire to build your shelter? A hatchet, and orange garbage bags have many uses, such as a raincoat or a pillow filled with leaves or pine needles or to put on the ground as insulation or for search and rescue. Maybe some good old duct tape and rope, like 4 sections of 35 feet, a small shovel and, of course, your snowshoes. Is that some of the equipment that you would normally find in your winter-equipped plane?

Winter Flying Preparation: Staying warm

Inventory is done…now it’s time to get to work building a shelter and, of course, starting a fire.

You have to pace yourself; otherwise, you will get wet, then chilled, and become hypothermic. The shelter will vary depending on the local terrain and what you have to work with. With an 8X10 tarp, you could build a lean-to or an “A“ frame; if not, maybe a snow house or quinshee made by hollowing out a pile of settled snow in contrast to an igloo that is made from blocks of hard ice. You might simply dig a hole in the snow the size of your body, put some spruce branches in the bottom as a mattress, then spruce branches on top as a roof, and then you would cover yourself completely with snow.

SNOW is your FRIEND as it will act as an insulator and a wind barrier.

Now, getting back to the fire, again pace yourself. How much wood do you really need to last the night? A pyramid-shaped pile of wood approximately as high as your hip should be good. Gather all the materials that you need, kindling small branches and logs before starting the fire. Lighting a fire with kindling and a few branches can play tricks on you, providing a quick fire with flames, and then by the time you turn around to gather more wood, the fire will die, and you will have to start all over again. When your fire is hot with a strong flame, you will build a backing to reflect heat inwards towards the shelter.

Luck might be on your side, and there is a big rock where you can build the shelter as a rock backing will help to reflect the heat, then, in time, get warm and keep the heat longer. Should we be unlucky enough to crash a plane in tree tops or a vast wilderness, what will stop an incident from turning into an accident is simply how well prepared and trained we are for winter survival while we are waiting for

Taking this information to your world now, first off, is your aircraft type resembling a multi-seat DeHavilland Beaver capable of hauling around eight beefy passengers or a Cessna 120 with two of you crammed in like sardines wrapped in snow gear? This will make the difference as to what would be required on board for any trip but also what is pertinent and practical given your gross weight.

I always personally am certain I have a lot more fuel in the tanks than required for any journey when the OAT shows the mercury in the bottom of the glass tube.

Want to learn more about surviving a plane crash? Register for one of our Egress Training Courses, where we go over everything you need to know to survive when the unexpected happens.

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An Aviation Egress Student Story

Students in pool

Welcome to Aviation Egress Systems. As a group of 12 students find their places with an adventurous anticipated plan to spend the day experiencing what an aircraft ditching is all about.

The first 90 minutes are for reviewing our DRY Egress completed earlier online at home or work, the introductions, theory, listening, watching, and experiencing what ditching is all about on dry land… can’t be that hard!!! RIGHT!!

Stand-by aviators for an aviation egress student story

…pilots and passengers alike………

The fun has just begun as you learn what it is like to escape from a downed aircraft. Bow your head, cross your arms, take a big breath as you learn to control your panic and roll inverted into the water. It sounds sooooo easy….but thankfully, you get to practice this exercise numerous times in a controlled environment with the idea that it will imprint those steps in your mind. The thought is if you ever are in a real-life incident, your mind will automatically engage with the actions taught in this training class.

Reference points are the key to survival.

The Egress Instructors help you from loosing your sense of direction when the aircraft/simulator ditches, sinks, or rolls in the water. Everything changes; what is up is now down, and left is now right. Your mind races as the disorientation takes place, and 10 seconds seems like forever, especially as the adrenaline rushes in and the chaos increases. As you remind yourself, this is in a controlled environment with no cold water shock.

YES, reference points are the key!! If you can only remember that when exiting this simulator.

The idea of Egress Training is to train for success. Some people are comfortable in the water, while others are not. The AES program starts with a gradual training plan to help students grow in comfort throughout the pool exercises. This includes a variety of tasks from life-vest and raft training to numerous exits and scenarios, leading up to a complete inversion, teaching students to control their panic, have a plan and exit the simulator safely, increasing confidence with each exercise.

As our training continues, it is interesting to watch everyone involved confidence grow. There is an interesting group of people brought together for this class pilots, commercial and private, helicopter and fixed wing, frequent flyers, women, men young and old. The children seem to grasp the concept much quicker … they just love the adventure.

At the end of this one-day adrenaline rush, you will be amazed at how much you have learned through the stories, experiences, and lessons that were taught in the ground school, followed by the simulation, learning to control your panic, hold onto a reference point, inflate a life vest, enter a life raft. In the class, everyone learns at a different rate and in different ways, but as the class concludes, everyone should be able to egress from the simulator successfully.

Saving lives is the ultimate reason for Egress Training. No one wants to respond to an aircraft mishap only to find downed aviators who didn’t have the proper training in order to survive. Egress Training can be extremely effective in demonstrating to the class how fast disorientation can take place and what to do when the chaos sets in. You will have to learn how to control your anxiety and work as a team to inflate PFDs, enter a life raft or propel through the water as a group.

In my opinion, no matter how you look at it, one life is worth the training and possibly…

”The life you save may be your own”

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Helicopter Safety Briefing for Passengers

Embarking on a helicopter flight is an exhilarating experience, yet it demands a high level of safety awareness and cooperation from each passenger to ensure a successful journey. In this blog post, we will give you a helicopter safety briefing for passengers so you are on you can contribute to a safe and enjoyable flight.

How to contribute to a successful flight

First and foremost, it’s vital to approach your flight with reasonableness and understanding. Every request made to the flight crew should be measured and mindful of the overall safety protocols. The safety of the flight largely depends on the crew’s expertise, and as passengers, our role is to support and adhere to their guidance.

A common yet critical aspect often overlooked is the proper handling of helicopter doors. The abrupt and careless slamming of doors can pose a risk not only to the aircraft’s structure but also to the safety of those on board. Therefore, gentle handling of doors is more than a courtesy; it’s a safety necessity.

Knowing how to safely embark and disembark the helicopter is the next step in your pre-flight education. This includes an understanding of inflight and ground procedures, which are pivotal in maintaining safety throughout the journey.

Additionally, familiarity with the location and use of safety and survival equipment onboard is essential. In the unlikely event of an emergency, this knowledge could be lifesaving. Alongside this, a clear understanding of the helicopter’s emergency procedures is crucial. These procedures are designed to maximize your safety and ensure a coordinated response should a critical situation arise.

Lastly, you should know the brace position, a fundamental aspect of helicopter safety that is designed to protect passengers in the event of an impact. Understanding and practicing this position can significantly reduce the risk of injury.

Helicopter safety briefing for passengers

As a passenger, you can contribute to a successful flight by following these tips and guidelines:

On the ground

Before you depart, here are a few helicopter safety briefing tips on the ground:

  • dress for the weather
  • inform the pilot of – your baggage weight, any applicable medical problems, or susceptibility to motion sickness
  • don’t smoke in or around the helicopter or any aircraft
  • stay well to the side of the helipad when the helicopter is arriving or departing
  • secure your clothing and headgear against rotor winds
  • protect your eyes against blown dust and particles
  • wait for instructions to approach or leave the helicopter approach and leave to the side or front in a crouched position – NEVER by the rear of the helicopter
  • if possible, wait until the rotors stop turning
  • approach and leave by the downslope side – for rotor clearance
  • carry gear firmly at your side, never over your shoulder or above your head
  • never throw items toward the helicopter, load cargo carefully and secure it against movement
  • ensure baggage compartment doors are properly closed and latched with seatbelts inside.
  • take a reserve of special medications you require in the event of en-route delays

On board

Once on board, follow these tips:

  • secure seat belts (and shoulder straps, if provided)
  • use a helmet or headset if provided
  • remain in your seat unless given permission to move
  • do not distract the pilot during takeoff, maneuvering, or loading
  • read instructions on the operation of doors and emergency exits, and familiarize yourself with the location of the ELT (emergency locator transmitter) and emergency equipment

During an emergency

If there is an in-flight emergency, follow these helicopter safety briefing tips:

  • follow instructions
  • do not distract the pilot
  • check that any loose gear in the cabin is secured
  • wear a helmet if provided
  • remove eyewear and put them in a safe place (you might need them later)
  • assume brace position
    • tighten seat-belts
    • with shoulder straps, tighten and sit upright, knees together, arms folded across the chest
    • without shoulder straps, bend forward so your chest is on your lap, head on knees, arms folded under thighs

After an emergency landing

After you have landed, follow these tips:

  • wait for instructions to exit or until the rotor stops turning
  • assist others to evacuate well clear of the aircraft
  • remove first aid kit and other emergency equipment after no threat of fire
  • administer first aid if required
  • remove the ELT, read the instructions and activate
  • set up camp to be as comfortable as possible
  • make the site as conspicuous as possible from the air
  • stay near the aircraft – don’t wander away from the site unless necessary
  • in water entry, follow Egress Training procedures


Ensuring a safe and enjoyable helicopter flight extends far beyond merely boarding the aircraft. It encompasses a series of deliberate actions and precautions, starting well before the rotors begin to spin. From dressing appropriately for the weather conditions to the way you approach and depart from the helicopter, every step plays a crucial role in ensuring your safety and comfort. By informing the pilot of crucial details like baggage weight and personal medical conditions, securing your belongings against rotor winds, and adhering to specific boarding and disembarking procedures, you contribute significantly to a successful flight experience.

Remember, safety in aviation is not just the responsibility of the flight crew but also of every passenger on board. If you fly over water, consider taking our aviation egress training for passengers. This training can help ensure you are prepared to handle emergencies with confidence.

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Floatplane Safety for Passengers

Upside down floatplane

Any licensed pilot will tell you it takes a great amount of time and dedication to complete both the ground school and flight testing, which enables them to be the captain. From the time a person decides to take flight training through completion, there is a barrage of studying, testing and hurdles hoping to prove the individual is capable and competent to hold a pilot’s license.

Once this phase has passed, many continue for years without re- visiting the POH (Pilots Operating Handbook). To refresh their memory on how to handle engine failures and other unscheduled conditions that may arise in flight, why not put the person at the controls to the test? On occasion, pull out the aircraft manual stuck way in the back of the glove box, and quiz your captain on emergencies and critical speeds, such as engine out descent rates which should be committed to memory. (If this upsets them more, the reason to continue).

Remember one thing about flying any aircraft you are suspended by thin air at great speeds without any brakes and, before long, guaranteed to be returning to mother-earth. This being said why is it so important frequent flyers of the aviators club be informed of what exactly to think about when going flying?


Because you are directly involved in all events which take place on any particular flight.

Unfortunately, even with high standards in flight training and maintenance, there are still many variables that contribute to damaged aircraft and injuries all over the world on a daily basis.

So what can you do as a passenger to aid in the safe uneventful return of each flight as you have?

Firstly, be a part of the flight crew from the point of helping organize the equipment for any flight and to keeping the captain honest in their duties by the occasional quiz. When planning a trip into far-off lands, be sure there is a lighter on board and emergency equipment, including bug spray in the summer for the unlikely event you find out the battery is dead late in the day at that wonderful remote lake you have just discovered.

Never ever wear anything that gives buoyancy in flight, such as a boater-style life jacket or floater coat. This is especially important for children! Simple logic for this is if an aircraft does end up inverted in water for any reason, it will be near impossible for the individual pinned to the ceiling to evacuate and equally difficult to aid in their Egress. As for life vests, next time you are over open water, think about where yours is, and know how to inflate it should your life depend on that knowledge.

Next time you are entering any aircraft:

  • Look around at things such as door handles and exits, touch them, feel them, and know how they work.
  • Shoulder harnesses in the front seats were designed and tested for forward impacts, wear them at all times without any exceptions.
  • When you wrap the seat belts around your waist and buckle them together, be aware of how they buckle up and be sure they are facing forward.
  • Get information on the brace for impact position, which in simple terms, means cross your arms and grasp the shoulder harness at chest level.

The last suggestion I have for you is, before long, to enroll yourself and your fellow flyers in Aviation Egress Training. My personal experience in warm pool Egress Training with over 9000 pilots and passengers is that none did well on the first few tries in our simulation equipment.

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What Is the Body’s Reaction to Cold Water Shock?

Aircraft crashed into ice

Do you know that being suddenly immersed in cold water can kill you?

Cold water immersion can be a life-threatening emergency, often underestimated in its severity. Understanding the body’s reaction to cold water shock is essential for both prevention and survival, especially for aircraft owners. It’s more than just a survival skill; it’s essential knowledge that could save your life in an emergency. In this article, we’ll explore how your body reacts to the shock of cold water and why it’s a serious concern, vital survival tips for an aircraft crash into cold water and ways to prepare and prevent cold water emergencies, focusing on flyers like you.

The shock of cold water on your body

When you enter cold water, your body experiences immediate physiological reactions.  Cold water will quickly sap your energy regardless of your strength or swimming abilities. After entering cold water, your skin temperature will drop within 3 degrees of the water temperature within 2 minutes, and your heart and brain temperature will start to drop in 10 to 15 minutes. The shock of this temperature change may cause heart failure and death.

But the risks don’t stop there. Your strength and swimming skills, no matter how good, can’t fight the draining effect of cold water. You could lose control over your limbs, struggle to think clearly, and even face the risk of drowning. This isn’t just a possibility – it’s a stark reality for anyone in these waters.

You might be wondering, “How long can I stay conscious in cold water?” It depends on the temperature:

  • 15 minutes in water 32ºF (0ºC)
  • 30 minutes in water 40ºF (4ºC) 60 minutes in water 50ºF (10ºC)
  • 2 hours in water 60ºF (16ºC)

These times are important to understand, especially if you’re flying over cold waters. Knowing what your body can withstand helps in planning and preparation.

Guidelines for surviving an airplane crash into cold water

If you should fall into cold water, try to follow these guidelines:

  • Stay with your aircraft: If your aircraft is still floating: on it to get as far out of the water as possible.
  • Float quietly in a fetal position: Immediately after entering cold water, it will be difficult to breathe. Float quietly, and the discomfort will rapidly decrease. To assume a fetal position hold your arms tightly against the sides of your chest and raise your knees to under your chin. Keep your head out of the water and covered if possible.
  • Do not remove clothing: Your clothing provides an additional layer of insulation and can help you stay warm.
  • Swim to shore if possible: If the shore is near and you are absolutely certain that you can make it, try to swim to the shore and get out of the water quickly. If the water is calm, use a back or
  • Remain calm: If the shore is far away, try to remain calm and still until rescued. Few swimmers can swim long distances in nearly freezing water. The exercise from swimming will result in a faster loss of strength.

These guidelines assume you’re wearing a life preserver, which is a critical piece of safety equipment. In cold water, every decision counts, and these steps can significantly increase your chances of survival.

Preparation and prevention strategies

Preparation is key, especially when flying over cold waters. Here’s how you can be better prepared for the unexpected:

  • Understand the risks: Know the dangers of cold water immersion. Awareness is the first step in prevention.
  • Safety equipment: Equip your aircraft with essential safety gear, including life preservers and emergency locator transmitters. Regularly check and maintain this equipment to ensure it’s in working order.
  • Plan Your route wisely: Be mindful of the water temperatures along your flight path. If you have options, choose routes over warmer waters when possible.
  • Inform others: Always let someone know your flight plan. In case of an emergency, this information can be crucial for rescue operations.
  • Regular drills: Practice emergency procedures regularly. Familiarity with your safety equipment and what to do in an emergency can make a significant difference.
  • Emergency training: Consider undergoing survival training specific to water emergencies, like aviation egress training. This training can provide invaluable skills and confidence in handling such situations.

By taking these steps, you’re not just preparing for an emergency; you’re significantly increasing your chances of survival in the event of an unexpected plunge into cold water.

Cold water shock is a serious risk, especially in environments where water temperatures can plummet quickly. Being aware of how your body reacts and knowing what to do in such situations can be the difference between life and death. Always exercise caution near cold water and be prepared for emergencies. To find out if we are offering aviation egress training in your area, contact us today.

Source: N.J. Dept. of Environmental Protection flyer