The crane begins to lower the helicopter’s cabin over the pool. There’s water to the chest. I take the air. 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. There are only 14 in the world, 10 of which belong to the military. This is the only one open to the public since civilians are trained here.
The company in charge of its exploitation is Inerco Forespro. “We have the administrative concession by which we train the military. We do so in exchange for profitable exploitation with civilian or military clients from other countries.” It’s how Julio ‘Uwe’ Acosta Martín explains it. He’s the company’s chief of operations. In this way, the Navy can train 1,100 people each year. It includes rescue swimmers. They are assigned to this survival center. 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 mainly six instructors. There’s also a maintenance manager and an administrative officer. The same instructors in charge of training the military also do it with the Civil Guard and Maritime Rescue. They also work with the 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. As for this simulator, there are only 14 in the world. 10 of them belong to the military.
“Yesterday, we had the personnel of the firefighters of the Air Force. Today, it’s those of the Army. A few days ago, it was the Marines. And next week, the US military will be stationed in Germany. ” That’s how they explain it. Here is the wind or oil platforms personnel that have to meet the training criteria established by the GWO. It’s the Global Wind Organization. They must be certified, performing the survival module at sea. By law, they say it is necessary that both Maritime Rescue and fire fighting teams pass this training annually.
Regarding the marines, there’s something specific. The head of operations of Inerco points it out. He teaches the passenger course of infantry and ‘fast rope. ‘If they fall into the water, they know how to let go of the equipment. They have to inflate the raft and more… “In the Tercio de Armada, everyone is susceptible to being embarked. Every four years, they have to pass the course. It is estimated that the whole unit must have passed through here and be qualified in four years, “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. This one is from 2012,” he stresses. “Before, the swimmers were qualified by helicopter while being out at sea. Now, once a month, they train here. They do the entire cycle of rescue. That equals an important saving in the budget,” he says.
“We have two classrooms where we start the course. In the case of today, it lasts eight hours. In them, they first receive a few conferencesso that they know. It’s done before getting into the helicopter simulator and teaching them how they have to act “, says Palma Flethes. She’s administrative of Inerco.
After the lectures, they go to the pool. It’s four meters deep and 10 meters wide. It’s 20 meters long. In there, they perform different exercises. There are 15 soldiers of the Army of the Battalions of Helicopters of Maneuver III on this occasion. They’re usually located in Logroño and Seville. Today, they are being trained. They are equipped with Cougar and NH-90 helicopters. The simulator has been configured based on these devices, with seats and windows. Even the doors have been put in the same place where the aircraft have them. This is the first time configured as NH-90 since the Spanish Armed Forces recently acquired this multipurpose helicopter. The simulator can be configured in up to 175 different ways depending on the unit to be trained.
All the Tercio de Armada must have passed through the dunker and be certified every four years.
“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.» That’s how he explains it. 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 is to remove the belt and go out the window. Inside the simulator that acts as the helicopter’s cabin, they know how to do it afterward. “We are seeing the degree of difficulty of each student,” says the instructor.
“Now it’s time to jump,” says Acosta. At the same time, the students stand on a platform several meters above the pool. They jump upright, with their hands crossed over their chests and holding their helmets. That’s how it has previously been explained. “What we do is train them in case of an accident. So we put ourselves in the worst of the worst: It’s that the helicopter hits or deserves in the water. But we also have to teach them how to act if the pilot can perform a stationary landing and that they have to jump in the sea. ” It’s exciting listening to Uwe. He is also an instructor of the Royal Spanish Salvage and Lifeguard Federation (RFESS). He also trains the Spanish Federation of Underwater Activities and the World Confederation of Underwater Activities. He belongs to the Andalusian Federation of Underwater Activities (FAAS) board.
“It’s very exciting and useful, ” says Sergeant Antonio Villa. He’s 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 climbs in. It is his third time in the dunker and highlights the usefulness of the training they receive. “Everything is based on mechanizing the procedure. It ensures there is muscle memory. You can 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 is above all. » It is the last advice given by the monitors. “Any questions? Does everyone know where they will go? ». The military assents and exposes their last doubts. “Ready?” «Dichi, dichi, dichi!» . The cabin is submerged and turned around. Little by little will they leave without difficulty. “Very good, gentlemen!” They encourage the instructors. All the tests are eliminatory.
The last exercise is called ‘armageddon.’ It simulates a helicopter accident at night with rain. There’s wind and waves. “The staff has to go out and put on the vest. They then inflate the raft, and the helicopter will rescue them. The exercise ends with all the personnel in the rescue aircraft. “Acosta describes it while pointing to a platform above the pool that acts as a rescue helicopter. In an emergency, the operator outside the pool presses a button. When that’s done, everything stops.
“Here, we crush the procedure. We try to reduce the minute of confusion, and gain confidence. Facedown, you always get disoriented and try to go out the other way. That’s why we give them points of support. They get points 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. That is precisely what they try to avoid, “you have to know what you can do.”