When we last left our intrepid heros (Marcio and myself) they were cruising along in a turbo Cirrus at 24,000 feet over the north Atlantic, enroute to the land of beautiful blondes (Iceland) from the land of golf and scotch (you figure it out).
We hadn’t been up at altitude long before Marcio started complaining that the nose cannulas weren’t giving him enough oxygen and that he was getting light headed. I wasn’t a bit surprised. 24,000 feet is pretty damn high to be using the little plastic hoses that just shoot oxygen up your nose. Up above 18,000 feet you really should be using full blown oxygen masks. So why weren’t we? Because we were shooting a TV show that’s why. And the cameraman thought I would be hard to hear us if anything interesting happened. Like passing out due to succumbing to hypoxia. Now that’s good TV! I wanted to use the oxygen masks in the first place because the particular type of nose cannula had goofy things on each side that made us look like we had big white plastic mustaches.
I was feeling fine because I have a pretty good tolerance for high altitude flying but Marcio need to change to an oxygen mask so he unplugged his nose cannula and began trying to hook up the mask instead. Ands when I say try I mean try because as soon as he went off oxygen to make the switch he began to lose it. He had a lap full of clear plastic hoses and couldn’t figure out which one went where, or how to untangle them, or how to plug what hose into where, or, or, or,???????
I watched that process unfold and was shocked by how fast he became totally useless due to lack of oxygen. If I hadn’t been there to take over and get him set up with a mask he would’ve passed out and the Cirrus would have kept flying on past Iceland before crashing when it finally ran out of fuel. Heck, it probably would’ve made it all the way to Greenland.
Once Marcio had his mask on and the O2 flowing he was right as rain. The rest of the flight to Iceland was uneventful except that I made my copilot a bit uncomfortable when I peed in a ziplock bag to relieve myself of excess bladder pressure.
In Iceland we were lucky enough to get some real life ocean survival training at the Icelandic Water Survival Institute training center. (A name I totally made up because I have completely forgotten what they are really called) The instructors as IWSITC had us done our survival suits and then jump into the water to demonstrate their effectiveness. Did we jump into a nice heated pool you ask? No we did not. We were taken on a short boat ride about a mile offshore and were dumped into the north Atlantic….Off the coast of Iceland….In the winter.
Lucky for us the survival suits work pretty darn good except the ones they had us use had removable gloves that let water in so our hands got pretty cold. The suits we fly in sre one piece with only your face exposed. Once in the water we practiced solo swimming, buddy swimming, and rescue swimming. Swimming in the suits isn’t too hard. The suits easily keep you afloat in the salt water so you just lay on your back and swim backwards with your arms.
The last thing we did was practice getting into the life raft. Which isn’t as easy as it sounds. And doesn’t really sound easy. Because it isn’t. How do you get into a big rubber life raft while wearing a heavy neoprene survival suit while bobbing in the ocean you ask? Easy just grab the strap by the door with your cold numb hands, then blindly search for the rope ladder that dangles underneath the raft with your foot. Once you somehow manage to get your foot on one of the straps just push pull heave flop your way over the side and into the raft. Easy! Just remember, if you let go of the raft, even for a second, the wind will take it and it will be gone.
This was my second time going through the training so it only took me 3 or 4 tries before I was able to get into the raft. But Marcio was another matter entirely. Being a big guy and not very athletic he just couldn’t manage to get enough leverage and momentum to get himself up over the side of the raft. (For some reason he didn’t find my words of encouragement funny at all!) After watching him struggle to get into the raft by himself I finally grabbed him by the shoulders and heaved him inside the raft.
Bottom line? If we have to ditch in the ocean and Marcio get’s out of the plane with the raft he’d better hope I make it as well or he’s going to die. That realization did wonders for my big Brazilian copilot’s confidence because we still had two of the most dangerous ocean crossings left to do on that trip.