I think it’s safe to say September 9th, 2013 was one of the scariest days of my life thus far. Several weeks prior I had signed up to take Rig Pass, Safegulf, Safeland, Personnel Transfer Basket, Swing Rope, and Offshore Water Survival (AKA: HUET METS Model 5…. AKA: Helicopter Underwater Escape Training) courses as this was a prerequisite to go offshore (to visit the rigs/rig employees for work purposes.) Yes, I said Helicopter Underwater Escape Training. In other words, the scariest darn thing you could ever do!!!! Okay, I know I’m being a bit dramatic here as there are many things more frightening than this. But, based on all of my experiences in my little life, this was freaking terrifying. Unfortunately, the location I was at would not allow video or cameras so I wasn’t able to capture this. However, when going through my phone to pull old pictures for this blog post, I came across several I had saved from www.behance.net to share with Blake, my family, and friends leading up to my big adventure. The picture of the student badge, of course the one with me in it, and the rig photo are all mine. Yet the middle four incredible photos are from Behance which paints the picture quite well.
To make a very long story short, you and about three other people get inside a helicopter simulation in a deep indoor pool, which functions as a practice model in case you ever had to escape from a helicopter crash. Although we had a trainer and scuba divers in the pool with us to “rescue” anyone who was underwater for too long, it was incredibly nerve-wracking. The participants had to complete 5 phases successfully. Of course, as you go through these phases, it gets more and more difficult. Initially your main goal is just being able to punch out the window and it goes on from there.
Phase One: Helicopter almost submerges, punch the window out, and unbuckle seat belt
Phase Two: Helicopter goes under water, sit for 7 seconds, punch the window out, unbuckle seat belt, and swim through window to water’s surface
Phase Three: Switch to new seat and use different type of seat belt (new method to open, compared to the first.) Helicopter goes under water, flips upside down, punch the window out, unbuckle seat belt, and swim through window to water’s surface
Phase Four: Stay in new seat with new seat belt. Helicopter goes under water, flips upside down, sit for 7 seconds, punch the window out, unbuckle seat belt, and swim through window to water’s surface
Phase Five: Switch to a new seat again—seat belt will be one of the two types you have already tried. Helicopter goes under water, flips upside down, sit for 7 seconds, punch out window, swim diagonally across the other people (I know, at this point it's comical, right?) and swim out of teammates window (assuming they got it open in the first place ha!)
If you messed up any of these phases you had to re-do it until successful to move onto the next tier. I did mess up (for lack of better words) the final tier and had to complete it a second time. Mess up meaning I had to be “rescued.” I became extremely disoriented when trying to do the diagonal switch and lost all track of what was in front of me, up, or down. To this day, I’m still not sure how I found my way but there was this teeny tiny amount of space/air between the flipped helicopter and the water’s surface. You had to tilt your head pretty far back to be able to gasp the air while still in there, but it was possible. I didn’t even know that was possible until I was in the moment and found myself breathing there all of a sudden. Then, one of the scuba divers got me out and it was time for my re-do. “Oh yay, I get to jump into the torture machine again!” J
Punching that window out alone was difficult as you had to position your arm/elbow a very specific way and apply a lot of pressure up against the water to get out. So, you can imagine the amount of anxiety that comes into the picture when you flip the thing upside down (leaving you feeling completely disoriented and not aware of what was up or down,) “holding” for 7 seconds before you move….and the list goes on. The water was not clear at all so even if you opened your eyes under the water, you couldn’t see which way you were going. If you unlock your seat belt before popping out the door, you will float away and need someone to pull you out. The windows were oh so tiny and everyone was bruising up their hip bones trying to swim out so fast. My lung capacity must not be the best as I was gasping for air by the time those 7 seconds were up. Knowing I still had all those steps to get to the air was overwhelming to say the least.
As you can see, I have a LOT to say about one course and not much to say about the others as there is just no comparison. The others mentioned previously are not very note-worthy but anyone who successfully completed the Offshore Water Survival/HUET (all of the amazing people who work offshore) are champions in my eyes.
Had I known exactly what I was signing up for, I don’t know if I would have gone through with it. I’ll be forever grateful for the experience –it pushed me to my limits. After completing the courses, I was able to visit two rigs and stay overnight. For my first, we had to get there by boat (and then ride the basket up to the rig which was similar to a fun roller coaster ride or something.) For my second, I finally got to ride the helicopter over the water and land on the rig.
Being able to see the offshore team in their element is really quite an experience, bringing me a whole new appreciation for the lifestyle they lead and the work they do. Now I can say I wear my coveralls with great pride. Flying on a chopper to land on a rig seems like a piece of cake after that ordeal J