Penticton residents get crash course in survival

Training session offers potentially life-saving skills to escape crash in water

Bryan Webster (left) of Aviation Egress Training Systems watches as Penticton's Graeme Naish emerges from the submerged aircraft simulator at the community centre pool. A commercial pilot by trade

Bryan Webster (left) of Aviation Egress Training Systems watches as Penticton's Graeme Naish emerges from the submerged aircraft simulator at the community centre pool. A commercial pilot by trade

Without training, the magic number for survival when belted in a confined space underwater is only 15 seconds.

With that in mind and his own brush with death in a float plane crash, Bryan Webster decided to go into the business of saving lives full time.

The accident he was in was on the Fraser River in 1977. Regaining consciousness at the last second, Webster experienced first hand the disorientation and panic of freeing himself (and the pilot) from the darkness of the inverted aircraft just as it slipped beneath the surface.

“That was terrifying,” recalled the Aviation Egress Training Systems founder who was at the Penticton Community Centre pool this week for a regular training session. “My nose was going underwater and I got out of my belt and went around the airplane and undid his (pilot’s) belt, and literally as his body came out, the airplane sunk. I watched the wheel go by me as I pulled him out the door.”

According to Webster, a veteran commercial pilot of more than 11,000 hours on 35 different aircraft, the 15-second rule relates to time the majority of people must free themselves before going into panic mode.

“If they haven’t got their head out the exit by then, that’s when it (panic) hits, it’s immediate, not another 10 seconds, it’s a fraction of a second and then it’s over,” he said.

What his program, which includes practical and theory exercises, does, is teach people to first of all remain calm and follow a series of procedures to manage their own escape and possibly help others.

And it works.

Since starting the Victoria-based company 14 years ago, he estimates the number of lives saved based on the testimonials he’s received to be in the double digits.

The letters of thanks have come from people like Jason Crozier of Gillam, Man. who was involved in potentially fatal mishap only last month.

“I was the pilot of a float-equipped Cessna 182 that was involved in an accident resulting in being submerged and belted in,” he wrote in a letter to Webster. “I have no doubt in my mind that your training saved my life and the life of my passenger.

“He (passenger) was able to open his door and escape. I was still struggling with my door and realized this is what it feels like to drown. I had one last second left in me and somehow made my way out the passenger door. Thank you Bryan.”

Over 5,000 people from across Canada have taken the seminar, the vast majority being passengers who regularly fly over water for work, such as government employees.

Webster has written a book on the subject and in 2007 received a Transport Canada Aviation Safety Award for his work.

Ditching an aircraft in the water, especially in coastal regions and areas with a large number of lakes, is not a rare occurrence.

Ironically, at just about the same time Webster was wrapping up his Penticton course, two Lower Mainland men were in a similar predicament.

An instructor and his student were practising landings and takeoffs on Pitt Lake when their aircraft crashed and turned over, trapping the pair underwater.

The student was able to escape but the 71-year-old instructor did not and died at the scene. As a result of that accident, Webster has already been contacted by someone about taking the program.

The Penticton session also came on the heels of another float plane accident on Okanagan Lake a month ago near Kelowna.

In that incident, the pilot was also reportedly practising takeoffs and landings when the crash occurred. He managed to escape and was not seriously injured.

According to Webster, at least 15 times a year there are accidents in Canada where aircraft come to rest upside down in water.

What compounds the problem in this country, giving it the highest mortality rate in the world for such incidents, is the cold water, making a quick escape even more critical.

Perhaps the most important thing people learn apart from the emotional aspect is the sequence of steps to take if they find themselves that situation.

“Instinctively most people undo the seat-belt, but they immediately revolve and now they’re totally done,” said the instructor. “They don’t know what’s up or down, they’re lost. And now your heart starts to race and your ability to hold that precious air diminishes rapidly.”

With Webster’s program, students are taught to first open the door and remain in touch with the exit point before unbuckling.

With practical familiarization, he finds people can often extend the time they need to 30 or 45 seconds.

Penticton lifeguard Graeme Naish had an opportunity to try Webster’s specially designed training equipment and even after only a few minutes instruction was able to quickly free himself from the confined enclosure.

“Being flipped upside down disorients you pretty good, especially having the floor above you and trying to find out where you are,” he said afterwards. “But what he teaches sure makes a difference. It’s definitely a life-saving technique.”

Seconds can mean the difference between life and death, and Webster feels if he can give people just a little more time than that magic number, he’s done his job.

 

Just Posted

Geordie Fife exits the dunk tank during 2017’s Discovery House Father’s Day festivities at Skaha Lake Park. The fundraiser helps raise awareness of the work done at the house and break down the stigma associated with addiction. (Western News File)
Discovery House Father’s Day fundraiser goes digital

The addiction recovery program will be rolling out videos ahead of the fundraiser

The proposed design of the five-storey building on Front Street. (City of Penticton)
Five-storey building proposed for Penticton’s Front Street

It will be the second time the proposal will head to council

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from St. Eugene’s residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

RCMP thanked the public for assistance in finding Benjamin Archie, last seen in Princeton. (RCMP)
Missing Chilliwack man found safe and sound

The 80-year-old had walked away from his home in Chilliwack

57-year-old Kathleen Richardson was discovered deceased in her home Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Her death is considered a homicide and connected to the slain brothers found on a Naramata forest road. (Submitted)
Naramata community in shock as condolences pour in for homicide victim Kathy Richardson

Richardson was well liked in the community, a volunteer firefighter with a home-based salon

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

(Heather Lueck image)
Crash north of Enderby knocks out power, slows Highway 97A traffic

A witness captured footage of a medical helicopter landing at the scene

The RCMP presence in Central Okanagan public schools is being reviewed by the board of education. (File photo)
RCMP presence welcomed in Central Okanagan public schools

Staff survey feedback overwhelmingly positive from students, staff and parents

Most Read