Sea Survival Sea Survival Sea Survival

The IAF’s Maritime Assistance squadron traveled all the way to the United States to practice sea survival and other extreme scenarios A helicopter lands in the sea. How do the aircrews escape? The IAF’s Maritime Patrol squadron traveled all the way to the United States to practice extreme scenarios

Noa Fenigstein

The aircrews of the “Defenders of the West” squadron from the Ramat David airbase spend many hours above the Mediterranean Sea. The squadron, which operates the “Panther SA-565” helicopter, is the IAF’s maritime squadron and it mostly assists the Israeli Navy in its missions from the air, in addition to landing on and taking off from missile boats.

The unique mission they execute puts them at risk of abandoning an aircraft in the sea more frequently than other squadrons. Consequently, the servicemen of the squadron, from mechanics to pilots, flew to United States to take part in a special training exercise: sea survival. “A helicopter that lands at sea will probably either sink or quickly capsize”, explains Major M’, Deputy Commanders of the squadron. “The main danger is that the aircrews might become disoriented at sea. Helicopter parts are likely to break, it might be completely dark at night and it’s best not to be caught unprepared at a moment like this”.

All IAF helicopter squadrons must take part in the training, but while most of them train only once, the soldiers of the “Defenders of the West” squadron have to train every few years. “This training exercise is very important to us and it is especially difficult to conduct the training in Israel”, stresses Major M’. “This is of course a very extreme scenario. But we also have to train for the most challenging situations”.

To carry out the unique training exercise, the helicopter crews visited a civilian facility in the United States where American military pilots also train. The facility contains a large pool and in it a structure that simulates the helicopter fuselage. The aircrews exited the helicopter fuselage into the water, where they had to escape and return to the water surface.

“The training exercise is much more challenging mentally than physically”, explains Major M’. “When you are actually trapped underwater, your body experiences immense stress. The key is to know how to stay calm under the water, so that you can successfully use the tools nearby to escape”.