I get asked all the time what we, as passengers, can do to protect ourselves from the dangers of flying in air taxis and float planes. The most important thing is to educate yourself—and to be aware of what is going on around you. I will never forget a trip that Dave and I took, with a family member visiting from Costa Rica. We were returning from Nanaimo to the Sunshine Coast in a float-equipped Beaver when we had the scare of our lives. Shortly after take-off, we flew through a flock of seagulls. When the engine cut out, I watched Dave have a quick look out the window to observe the whitecaps, and then turn to me with a look that said “this is it”. He had one hand on my seatbelt and the other on the door-handle when the pilot switched gas tanks and apologized. We were safe, this time.
Transport Canada has some very good material.
“Make it clear to the charter company and the pilot that safety is paramount, that delays are acceptable and that unsafe flying is not for you”
Never “pressure any operator or pilot to go flying if they recommend waiting for better weather”
“All aircraft are limited to a maximum weight and centre of gravity range. It is dangerous to overload an aircraft or concentrate the weight too far forward or rearward. Tell the operator in advance the number of passengers and amount of baggage you want to transport so the right aircraft can be used. Never pressure a pilot to take additional cargo. Loose baggage can become dangerous missiles in an accident and may also block exits. If you are not satisfied that cabin baggage is stowed safely, tell your pilot.”
“Consider carrying safety equipment of your own, such as some strong cord, a signalling mirror and extra clothing. Take suggestions form survival books you have read. Ask about the location and operation of the emergency locator transmitter (ELT). The ELT is a battery-powered radio that transmits an emergency signal to enable search aircraft to locate you in the event of a crash.” If you do a lot of flying over water, I would also recommend carrying your own personal waterproof ELT/GPS beacon and wearing an uninflated life preserver during flight. This may be uncomfortable, inconvenient and expensive—but please consider what your life is worth. I will never regret having bought Dave his floater coat. While in the end, it did not save his life, it kept him alive for a long time and gave him a much better chance than the others. And it brought him home.
In water accidents, seaplanes tend to come to rest inverted. The key to your survival is to retain your situational awareness and to expeditiously exit the aircraft. The following actions are recommended once the seaplane momentum subsides:
1. Stay calm - Think about what you are going to do next. Wait for the significant accident motion to stop.
2. Grab your life preserver/PFD - If time permits, put on, or at least, grab your life preserver or PFD. DO NOT INFLATE IT until after exiting. It is impossible to swim underwater with an inflated life preserver. You may get trapped.
3. Open the exit and grab hold - If sitting next to an exit, find and grab the exit handle in relation to your left or right knee as previously established. Open the exit. The exit may not open until the cabin is sufficiently flooded and the inside water pressure has equalized. DO NOT release your seat belt and shoulder harness until you are ready to exit. It is easy to become disoriented if you release your seat belt too early. The body’s natural buoyancy will cause you to float upwards, making it more difficult to get to the exit.
4. Release your seat belt/harness - Once the exit is open, and you know your exit path, keep a hold of a fixed part of the seaplane and release your belt with the other hand.
5. Exit - Proceed in the direction of your nearest exit. If this exit is blocked or jammed, immediately go to the nearest alternate exit. Always exit by placing one hand on a fixed part of the aircraft, and not letting go before grabbing another fixed part (hand over hand). Pull yourself through the exit. Do not let go until you are out. Resist the urge to kick, as you may become entangled in loose wires or debris, or you might kick a person exiting right behind you. If you become stuck, back up to disengage, twist your body 90 degrees, and then exit.
6. Getting to the surface - Once you have exited the seaplane, follow the bubbles to the surface. If you cannot do so, as a last resort inflate your life preserver. Exhale slowly as you rise.
7. Inflate your life preserver - Only inflate it when you are clear of the wreckage, since life preservers can easily get caught on wreckage, block an exit, or prevent another passenger from exiting.