One day last week a friend of mine, the father of a Marine, shared a link to a video of Marines undergoing Helicopter Underwater Evacuation Training (HUET). Although I was never a Marine, the video brought back many memories of similar training.
For many years I managed the construction, operations and maintenance of a natural gas pipeline system in the Gulf of Mexico. We employed helicopters to travel to offshore platforms and, because there was always the risk of an aircraft going down, we trained on how to react to such an event.
Helicopters used in offshore service are equipped with floats designed to keep the aircraft upright in the event of a water landing. Unfortunately, these floats can fail to inflate or fail to stay inflated. If one float fails, the helicopter will list to that side, capsize and go inverted.
Our offshore survival training was conducted in a swimming pool using a mock helicopter cockpit made for two, four or six passengers. Trainees were strapped in and, because an aircraft may go down at night, we were blindfolded. Then, the cockpit was suddenly inverted and the fun began.
As water rushed in, the person nearest the door opened it, and everyone began unfastening their harnesses. Amidst the rush of water and flailing arms and legs, we each, then, tried to find our way out before inflating our personal floatation devices. (Inflating your PFD before egressing could pin you to the floor of the aircraft.)
The natural tendency is to panic in these situations. When you fear drowning and can’t breathe, see, or hear; can’t find the latch to your harness; and you’re getting kicked and clawed by others trying to save their own lives, it can get hairy. The worst part about being blindfolded and inverted underwater, however, is the total disorientation. Up is now down, down is up, and left and right are reversed. It’s this disorientation, this confusion, that causes people to lose their lives.
The secret to surviving is to find a fixed point of reference onto which you can grab with your off hand before the aircraft starts to list, keeping your predominant hand free to release your harness; and to make a mental note of where exit doors are in relation to that reference point. With respect to the aircraft, this point of reference doesn’t change regardless of the aircraft’s orientation. Taking a moment to mentally orient yourself and visualize what you need to do, will probably save your life.
Yesterday morning at church, I was gazing at the stained glass window of Jesus in the garden of Gethsamane that is behind our altar and this recollection of survival training came sneaking into my consciousness, distracting me. I tried to push it away. But, before I could, I realized that the image in the window was Jesus praying to His point of reference, God the Father, for strength, courage and direction.
Then, I thought about when the exigencies of life turn my world upside down; when crises leave me confused and disoriented; and when heartbreak leaves me feeling lost in the dark and unsure of which way to go, I know Christ is my unchanging reference point.
When our culture tries its best to convince me that my happiness depends on the material things I accumulate, having Jesus as my reference point reminds me that, although I could lose everything tomorrow, He will never leave me.
When the world tells me that the only way to get ahead is to always put myself first regardless of the impact it may have on others, I can, instead, look to Him as an example of unselfishness and compassion.
When I’m told that right and wrong are matters of personal preference, and I should feel ashamed if my opinion differs from that of another, I can rely on Him for the truth.
I know when my ship goes down, as it someday will, it won’t be easy. But, I’ll be ready because I train every day, not in a mock cockpit in a swimming pool, but in daily prayer, meditating on God’s Word, and listening to His message – my point of reference.
How do you train?
“Lord Jesus, You are the Light and the Truth. You are unchanging. Lord, You give me the grace to always turn to you, especially when I’m in danger of drowning. When I reach for your hand in the dark, I know you will be there to pull me up. Amen.”
(A Point of Reference was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
©2013-2018 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.