An early Sunday morning trip up to Rochester. Earlier in the week the highs were in the 90s, now the lows were in the 20s; "typical" atypical Ithaca weather. Pull the plane out of the hangar. It was the first flight of the day and was, of course, in back of the hangar. Flight service confirmed the weather would allow for a nice VFR day-trip. We reviewed our checklist one more time: headset, charts, flight bag, spare shoes, socks, pants, shirt, underwear, and, in good, Douglas Adams fashion, a towel.

Paranoia? Anal retentiveness? A case of severe in-flight sweating? Not quite sweat but SWET. This flight was a trip up to Rochester to attend an FAA Safety Seminar put on by the Rochester Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) on Shallow Water Egress Training (SWET). This course is put on by the Detroit Coast Guard and is the same techniques the Coast Guard requires all of their aviators to learn and use.

After getting a ride from the FBO to a local high school, we found ourselves at the edge of a pool getting a briefing on these techniques, as well as things to expect from a water ditching. In a word: disorientation. It is highly likely that a ditched plane may go inverted. Trying to find your way out in such an environment can be confusing at best. The best chance for a successful water egress is to follow a well-defined procedure. But more on that in a bit.

The water in the pool is perhaps 4 feet deep and pleasantly warm. Floating in the middle is a frame structure made of PVC tubing, flanked by two Coast Guard PJs (pararescue jumpers) A chair sits in the middle of the frame. And I sit in that chair. I'm strapped in with a 5-point harness and wearing a helmet (for general protection). I'm also wearing my street clothes: jeans, t-shirt, shoes. And since this is the second of the two "rides" I am also wearing a blindfold, to simulate a night ditching.

The PJs are there to instruct and assist. Assist in making an emergency water egress necessary, as well as assist in case there are any problems. After having me practice the procedure one more time, right-side up and out of the water, they ask if I am ready. And after giving them the "OK" they flip the rig over, capsizing it, plunging me into the water, upside down. It was now time to perform the procedure for emergency egress.

First, I waited a moment for things to stabilize. Then, I simulated opening the door, grabbing where the the handle would be and pushing open where the door would be (recall that this was just an open frame with no doors). Next, I established the reference point, by grabbing hold of the structure by my right leg, both to orient me and to remind me the exit was to my right. You never let go of the plane, until you are out. The disorientation, with the cockpit being upside down, debris floating around, and night, makes it vital that you can navigate around just by touch.

While still holding onto the reference point, with a sweeping gesture from my hand, I simulated removing a headset. Then, I undid the harness. This was a quick-release belt, so one turn unlatched the four belts from the latch.

THEN it was time to leave the plane. To do this, I went from one handhold to another, never letting go of the frame. I pulled myself through the side and then out. Recall that I was blindfolded, so this entire procedure was done by touch only. And my street clothes, including shoes, were now wet and heavy.

The final step, had this been real, would be to inflate a life-vest if I had been wearing one. Instead I could stand up, drain the water out of my nose, and swim to the edge of the pool, get out, and dry off.

The entire egress procedure took, perhaps, 10-15 seconds.

This was a very eye-opening experience. I realized how tricky it is to get out of a plane sinking in the water. Keeping a calm, controlled attitude, following a procedure, and avoiding panic is the only way to survive. Before starting the engine of the Mooney for the trip back, I thought about how there is just one door, on the passenger side, how unless the seats are slid all the way back, it is virtually impossible to get out of the plane, how our emergency kits are at the very back of the plane, and how my flight bag, garbage bag of wet clothes, and other junk is in the back seat of the plane, ready to provide a distraction.

Since I recently got a sea-plane rating, I thought the SWET training would be useful. I now realize this is useful for land-plane pilots as well as those on floats. Even though a real situation would be very different, the training makes you think about the important issues and start to come up with a plan for egress ahead of time. I recommend this for all pilots.

And Douglas Adams was right: remember to bring your towel.

Frank took the class on April 20, 2002.