Water-Ditching Survival Training

Posted earlier. 

Now more important than ever.

My husband Tom is a scientist. A volcanologist to be more exact, and his area of expertise is the lahar, a destructive mudflow on the slope of a volcano. Sometimes his research takes him out into the field, and sometimes that means flying in a helicopter. As an employe of the US Geological Survey, he is employed by you, the American taxpayer, which also means that you pay for him to receive Water Ditching Survival Training. Your tax dollars hard at work. Please know that you have my profound thanks!   

A short explanation of said training is that he and his fellow students are taken to a local pool where they spend several hours learning about and practicing what to do in the event of a water ditching. They take turns strapping themselves into the seat of a mock helicopter airframe, are then plunged into the water where the airframe is rolled over and over until they find themselves submerged under water. They are disoriented and expected to find their way back to the surface. Sound like fun? 

Imagine what that might feel like.  You are flying along, minding your own business and then something happens that sends you careening off your fight path and into the watery depths. It is dark and cold, you are confused and unsure which way is up... literally, and terrified and desperate to get out. My first instincts would be to 1. Panic. 2. Free myself from my seatbelt as fast as possible. 3. Get out of the aircraft. 4. Swim back up to the surface. 

Following those instincts, I'd probably drown. 

According to his training, Tom learned (and I'm loosely paraphrasing here) that as soon as you realize that you are headed for the water you should 1. Stay focused.  2. Grab ahold of something, anything - the door handle, steering wheel, armrest, and hold on until the helicopter settles.        3. Unstrap your seatbelt while STILL HANGING ON TO YOUR HANDHOLD.  4. Figure out which way the bubbles are rising  while STILL HANGING ON TO YOUR HANDHOLD.  The bubbles are rising to the surface, but you may be hanging upside down. That handhold is the only thing that will orient you to which way is actually up. Then, and only then, are you ready to let go, free yourself and swim to the surface.

I hope to God almighty that I never, ever, have to try that out in a real helicopter and a real body of water, and I hope you never do either. But. Water-ditching happens to us in life all the time. We are flying along, riding inside of our life, and suddenly we are plunged into deep water and have to find our way back to the surface. We lose our job and don't know what to do. We get a new job and don't know what to do. Our heart gets broken and it feels like we will never recover. We fall head-over-heels in love and it feels like we will never recover. We move to a new town and find ourselves alone and uncertain in the midst of the unknown. We don't move to a new town and find ourselves alone and uncertain in the midst of the familiar. We over-commit and pay the price. We under-commit and pay the price. We take a risk and fail. We play it safe and fail. 

These past few months have left me under water wondering which way is up. The handholds that are helping me find my way to the surface are the ones I've learned to grab, and include the practices and people that keep me grounded, spiritually, physically and emotionally....Meditation, prayer, exercise, sleep, good nutrition, French Press coffee (really!), time and connection with my inner-circle, (including myself).  The people who keep me both grounded and oriented are those who love me for who I am and who I am not, who show up no matter what, are willing to be vulnerable and real, and who have sworn (along with me) to tell one another the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help us God.

As the saying goes....Shit happens. So does water-ditching. 

  • What is your handhold?
  • Who is your handhold?
  • What is it that will steady you, and allow you to wait for things to settle?  
  • Who will help you orient yourself so that you can find your way to the surface?  

Time to get to the surface!  We've got work to do!