Recently I wrote that survival is a state of mind. You should think about survival in your daily situations. If you have thought about survival before an emergency occurs, you will be better prepared to respond to the situation. This does not mean we should worry about every daily activity. In a theater, it only takes a second to look for alternate exits. At the gas station, as you get out of the car and get ready to pump the gas, take a look for the shut-off location and a fire extinguisher. It only takes a second and you will be much better prepared for an emergency than the vast majority of those around you
An incident more years ago than I would like to admit has made me also focus on survival until the emergency is completely resolved. We had just launched off the carrier deck in our F-4. We had turned around and were heading to the refueling aircraft when I looked over the left canopy rail. The whole angle deck of the carrier was aflame. Clearly an aircraft that was being recovered had hit the ship and crashed. From the amount of flame, I suspected it was an F-4.
The recovery was delayed for some time, but I can happily report that there were no casualties with either the flight crew or on the flight deck. Everything worked properly. The fire and debris went down the angle deck and into the ocean. The crew ejected safely. It was an F-4 from our sister squadron that had hit the ramp.
Later in the ready room I was talking with the RIO who had ejected. I asked what he remembered. He said he remembered hitting the deck before he ejected. He remembered the canopy leaving and the seat traveling up the rails. He remembered separating away from the seat and the chute opening. He deployed his survival gear and then hit the water. A short swim through the water and he was in the raft. Not long later, the helo appeared. He got in the water and away from the raft. The helo crew lowered the horse collar, he slipped it under his shoulders and they started to hoist him to the helo. He remembered starting to relax and thinking, ďThat was really quite an experience.Ē Halfway up to the helo the horse collar broke and he started to plummet to the ocean. He grabbed the end of the collar, badly wrenching his shoulder. A few minutes later he was deposited on the deck of the carrier.
I asked him what the most important thing was that he learned from the experience. He said that you can never get out of survival mode until the situation is completely over. Never stop thinking survival until you are on the deck of the carrier or on dry land. There is a lesson in there for all of us.