Photo/Story Gallery 2003

FHP Trains In Open Water Survival

a pilot being hoisted from Tampa Bay In early September, members of the Florida Highway Patrol Flight Section, along with members of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office received Open Water Survival Training thanks to the United States Coast Guard. FWCC Aviation Support Officer, John McDonald, who is a retired Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander, organized this valuable multi-agency training exercise with the USCG Air Station Clearwater.

Captain Walker receiving instructions from UCCG trainer in a swimming poolPictured left, FHP pilot is hoisted from Tampa Bay during the training and right, Captain Walker receives instructions from UCCG trainer.

The specialized open water survival training was a two-day exercise that began with a seventy-five yard swim test conducted in a swimming pool with the pilot trainees dressed in full flight suits weighted with un-inflated PFD’s (personal flotation device) and tennis shoes. At the end of the swim, the pilots had to perform a drown-proofing exercise that lasted an additional two minutes. Next, the pilots had to manually inflate their PFD’s and climb into an inflated life raft. This test, a mandatory part of the survival training, had to be successfully mastered first in order to proceed with the rest of the training.

Pilots being pulled ashore after first phase of trainingThe next part of the training involved the use of the SWET (Shallow Water Escape Trainer) and the HEEDS (Helo Emergency Escape Device). The SWET device is used to simulate an aircraft that has been submerged and overturned in the water.

Pictured Back L-R: Sgt. Bernard Foot Troop L, Sgt. Tim Riordan FWCC, Sgt. Randy Allen Troop B; and Front L-R: Sgt. Domingo Torres Troop E, Sgt. William Bertrand Troop K, Sgt. Gary Schluter Troop F. or Pilots happy to be pulled ashore after completing first phase of training.

The pilots were trained to egress the SWET with and without the use of the HEEDS, a small scuba tank that provides the user with approximately two to three minutes of breathable air. Upon completion of this part of the training, the pilots learned rescue procedures for open water hoisting.

photo of rescue swimmer being lowered into the water to rescue a traineeDuring the open water hoisting training, the 20,000-pound HH60 Jayhawk helicopter approached approximately 50 feet above the water where the aircraft’s rotor wash produced winds equivalent to a category II hurricane.

Pictured right, rescue swimmer directs helicopter to end of rainbow and finds FHP pilot.

The pilot had to maneuver the aircraft over the trainee waiting in the water to be rescued using directions relayed to him from the rescue swimmer. The hoist operator then lowered the rescue swimmer into the water.

The trainee being rescued also needed to do a couple things to assist in the rescue. He had to remain calm at all times, while he turned his back to the helicopter as it approached to avoid the very high winds and water and then extend his arms to the rescue swimmer so the sling could be secured around his chest and under his arms. The trainee was then positioned in the water directly under the helicopter. Surprisingly, at this point there was virtually no wind-similar to the calm inside the eye of a hurricane. Although it was noisy, the rescued trainee was able to hear instructions given by the rescue swimmer. Once the trainee was secured, the rescue swimmer signaled the hoist operator to lift and the ride to the top began. Within seconds, the rescued trainee was hoisted straight up through the air to the open door of the helicopter, and was looking in at the flight crew.

photo of Captain Walker getting the thumbs up from the Helo crew during hoistingOnce at the top, the rescued trainee was not taken into the helicopter, but was given a cookie (chocolate chip, Oreo or peanut butter)—a Coast Guard tradition for open water hoist training. After receiving the cookie, the trainee was lowered back into the water and picked up by boat. That morning the United States Coast Guard simulated rescuing 34 trainees.

Pictured left, USCG Crewmen AMT2 Craig D. Gauden and MT3 Joseph E. Rusnak give Captain Walker thumbs up during hoisting.

The Florida Highway Patrol would like offer a special thank you to the personnel listed below who were directly involved in providing our officers with this valuable training.

CDR Joe Mattina
Lt. Mark Glass
Ltjg Todd Bloch
Ltjg Lawrence Quedado
Ltjg Robert K. Rawlings
AST1 Ken Keist
AST2 Henry Gumbus
AST2 David Lawson
AST2 Timothy Wamble
AMT2 Craig Gaudren
AMT3 Joseph Rusnak
AST3 James Chesser
AST3 Stewart Johnston
AST3 Moises Rivera

Also, FHP thanks the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office for providing boats, rescue equipment and personnel to get the training done. Because of the cooperative efforts of these individuals and the success of this important training, all law enforcement personnel who participated now have a better understanding of how to survive in open water.