15th MEU Marines get 'dunked' during water ditching course
By Cpl. Scott L. Eberle
| | February 13, 2006
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON Calif. (Feb. 14, 2006) - A "helo dunker" filled with Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit rolls over under water while an instructor overlooks during a Basic Aircraft Ditching Course. 15th MEU Marines attended the course as training for a deployment later this year. Photo by Cpl. Scott L. Eberle
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit recently attended the Basic Aircraft Ditching Course as part of their annual training in preparation for deployment later this year.
The effects of the Basic Aircraft Ditching Course hits a little closer to home for Marines from the 15th MEU. Six Marines and one Corpsman with the 15th MEU died in a training accident off the coast of California Dec. 2000 when a CH-46E crashed into the ocean.
In the wake of that tragedy, Marines from different units attend the course to learn and practice basic maneuvers to exit an aircraft when it crashes into the water.
A “dunker” is used to properly train Marines to egress from a helicopter that has ditched over water. The dunker is a simulated helicopter fuselage that incorporates designs from the CH-53 and CH-46 helicopters commonly used by the Marines.
The purpose of the training was to build the confidence of the students and get them used to quickly exiting the aircraft, said Capt. Lisa M. Parrott, 15th MEU supply officer.
“I think this training should be part of the basic swim qualification for every Marine,” said Parrott. “People without this training can be a hazard to everyone who has if a helicopter were to actually go down.
Before the Marines could get in the dunker they received classes covering the dangers of water-born crashes and the dangers of breathing compressed air at great depths. Other classes involved how to exit the aircraft while upside down under water and in the dark.
“Everyone knows that the chances of surviving any helicopter crash are very slim,” said Parrott. “But this training gives you the extra little bit of hope and knowledge to keep you from panicking.”
Upon conclusion of the classes the Marines got in the water and learned how to use a Helicopter Aircrew Breathing Device. The HABD is essentially a miniature scuba tank that fits in a pouch on the life vest helicopter crew and passengers are required to wear when traveling over water.
The HABD only holds 3000psi of air but when properly used it will give a person up to two minutes of oxygen under water, providing them extra time to exit the aircraft.
The dunker still creates the confusion and disorientation under water that you could expect from an actual crash, said Cpl. Paul M. Erwin, Radio Reconnaissance assistant radio operator with the 15th MEU.
“It obviously doesn’t compare to a real helicopter crash, but within the boundaries of safety, it is about as close as you can get,” said Erwin.
At the end of the course the Marines practiced exiting an aircraft while hovering close to the water and survival techniques to help ensure their survival once the have exited the downed helicopter.
“The dunker was a good experience,” said Erwin. “With that experience, I now have an idea of what to expect, and have a little more confidence in myself.”