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The crane begins to lower the helicopter’s cabin over the pool. Water for the chest, I take air and I remain quiet waiting for this to stop. It’s three seconds, “explains the instructor. Around him, eight Army soldiers learn how to survive a helicopter accident at sea.
The simulator in which they do it receives the name of ‘dunker’ and is in the Naval Base of Rota. As there are only 14 in the world, 10 of them military, and this is the only one open to the public, since civilians are also trained here.
The company in charge of its exploitation is Inerco Forespro. “We have the administrative concession by which we train the military in exchange for profitable exploitation with civilian or military clients from other countries,” explains Julio ‘Uwe’ Acosta Martín, the company’s chief of operations. In this way, the Navy can train 1,100 people each year (including rescue swimmers), which are the places assigned to this survival center, within which it reserves 10 days for the training of Army soldiers and another 10 for the Air Force.
The staff of Inerco Forespro that works in this survival center of the Spanish Navy is composed of six instructors, a maintenance manager and an administrative officer. The same instructors who are in charge of training the military also do it with Civil Guard, Maritime Rescue, rescue units of various provinces of Spain or the regiment of helicopters of the Portuguese Navy. For all of them, they take courses adapted to their needs.
The Rota dunker is the only one open to civilian personnel and as this simulator there are only 14 in the whole world, 10 of them military.
“Yesterday we had personnel of the firefighters of the Air Force, today to those of the Army, a few days ago to Marines. And next week the US military will be stationed in Germany, “they explain. Also here is formed personnel of wind or oil platforms that have to meet the training criteria established by the GWO (Global Wind Organization) and must be certified, performing the survival module at sea. Likewise, by law, they say, it is necessary that both Maritime Rescue and fire fighting teams pass this training annually.
Regarding the marines, points out the head of operations of Inerco, who teach the passenger course of infantry and ‘fast rope ‘, if they fall into the water, they know how to let go of the equipment, inflate the raft, etc … “In the Tercio de Armada, everyone is susceptible to being embarked, so every four years they have to pass the course. It is estimated that in four years the whole unit must have passed through here and be qualified, “says Uwe.
Opened in 2012
Sub-Lieutenant Guillermo de la Vega has been an instructor of swim rescuers of the Navy in the dunker for 18 years. “There has been a big change between the old dunker and this one, which is 2012,” he stresses. “Before the swimmers qualified by helicopter, at sea, now once a month they train here, doing the entire cycle of rescue, and that means an important saving,” he says.
“We have two classrooms where we start the course that, in the case of today, lasts eight hours. In them they receive first a few conferencesso that they know, before getting into the simulator of the helicopter, how they have to act “, says Palma Flethes, the administrative of Inerco.
After the lectures, they go to the pool, four meters deep, 10 meters wide and 20 meters long, in which they perform different exercises. On this occasion, 15 soldiers of the Army of the Battalions of Helicopters of Maneuver III (BHELMA-III) and IV (BHELMA-IV), located in Logroño and Seville respectively, are being trained. They are equipped with Cougar and NH-90 helicopters and the simulator has been configured based on these devices, with seats, windows and doors, in the same place where the aircraft have them. In fact, this is the first time that it is configured as NH-90, since this multipurpose helicopter is recently acquired by the Spanish Armed Forces. The simulator can be configured in up to 175 different ways depending on the unit to be trained.
It is estimated that in four years all the Tercio de Armada must have passed through the dunker and be certified
“The first exercise in the pool is to swim with the team,” explains Uwe Acosta. «Afterwards we pass them in apnea through a window so that they can take advantage», he explains. After that, the soldiers go in one after another in a cage with a seat and a window, the instructors turn them over and stay with their legs out of the water and the rest inside. The objective: to remove the belt and go out the window so that later, inside the simulator that acts as the helicopter’s cabin, they know how to do it. “We are seeing the degree of difficulty of each student,” says the instructor.
“Now it’s time to jump,” says Acosta, while the students stand on a platform several meters above the pool and, one by one, they jump upright, with their hands crossed over their chests and holding their helmets, as previously explained. “What we do is train them in case of an accident. So we put ourselves in the worst of the worst: that the helicopter hits or deserves in the water. But we also have to teach them how to act in the event that the pilot can perform a stationaryand that they have to jump in the sea, “explains Uwe, who is also an instructor of the Royal Spanish Salvage and Lifeguard Federation (RFESS), of the Spanish Federation of Underwater Activities (FEDAS), of the World Confederation of Underwater Activities ( CMAS), and belongs to the board of the Andalusian Federation of Underwater Activities (FAAS).
“It’s very exciting, very useful, ” says Sergeant Antonio Villa, assigned to BHELMA IV, for whom it is his first time in the dunker. “The most annoying thing is to feel how the water enters your nose,” he says as he leaves the pool. After him, his partner, Sergeant First Joseba Martínez Cuberías, of BHELMA III, climbs. It is his third time in the dunker and highlights the usefulness of the training they receive. “Everything is based on mechanizing the procedure so that there is a muscle memory and apply it in case of emergency,” he says.
Next, they get into the helicopter ‘false cabin’ and occupy their seats. “We do not release the belt until the device is completely submerged and still.” «Gentlemen, do not rush. Our safety above all », are the last advice given by the monitors. “Any questions? Does everyone know where they are going to go? ». The military assents and exposes their last doubts. “Ready?” «Dichi, dichi, dichi!» . The cabin is submerged and turned around. Little by little, they leave without difficulty. “Very good, gentlemen!” Encourage the instructors. All the tests are eliminatory.
The last exercise is called ‘armageddon’ and simulates a helicopter accident at night, with rain, wind and waves. “The staff has to go out, put on the vest, inflate the raft and the helicopter will rescue them. The exercise ends with all the personnel in the rescue aircraft, “Acosta describes, while pointing to a platform above the pool that acts as a rescue helicopter. In case of emergency, the operator who is outside the pool presses a button and everything stops.
“Here what we do is crush the procedure, try to reduce the minute of confusion and gain confidence. Face down you always get disoriented and try to go out the other way. That’s why we give them points of support, of reference », says the head of operations. “We all have the survival instinct , but there are people who get nervous, they get blocked. I have been crying in the simulator, “he says. And that is precisely what they try to avoid, “you have to know what you can do”.
Source: la voz digital