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Πεμ Φεβ 24, 2011 5:17 pm από taucher


Nerves of steel needed for oil rig test

Πήγαινε κάτω

Nerves of steel needed for oil rig test

Δημοσίευση  lkarapa Την / Το Δευ Οκτ 26, 2009 8:57 am





Hopefuls who want to work on a North Sea oil rig have to take a test that is so nightmarish that some decide to give up their dreams rather than put themselves through it.

Some people who have done it once can not bring themselves to do it again.

I know because on a chilly autumn afternoon I found myself in Aberdeen recently watching someone opt out of a session featuring said test.

For me, however, the sight was especially alarming as I was sitting waiting to take the test myself.

The exercise concerned is conducted in an echoing hall that contains two deep pools full of water that are each about the size of a couple of tennis courts.

Hanging from the high ceilings, there are large orange life boats and what looks like two orange metal insects, which are the bodies of replica helicopters.

This is a venue for what is known as HUET training. The kind of acronym beloved by the industry, this stands for Helicopter Underwater Escape Training, a programme that is intended to give people a chance of surviving a hazard that anyone whose job involves commuting over the North Sea by helicopter may have to confront.

Experts believe that the fact that all the occupants of a helicopter that ditched in the North Sea in February got out safe is a sign that the training helps people to prepare for what may occur. However, 16 people were killed when a Super Puma crashed near the Aberdeenshire coast in April.

The training involves drills in which simulators are lowered into the water until the occupants are fully submerged.

A catch is that candidates can only begin their attempt to escape after they have sat motionless while the water climbs up, submerging their knees, waist, shoulders, nose and finally the tops of their heads.

As if that were not enough, candidates who manage to complete a series of escapes with the helicopter the right way up then have to learn how to repeat the trick when a helicopter capsizes.

This means holding your nerve while the helicopter lists and starts filling with water and then keeping it until you find yourself strapped into a seat, suspended upside down in a confined space full of water.

Once the helicopter has stopped turning over, aspiring escapees have to wait seven seconds under water before moving. Count them.

The wait is intended to help people reorient themselves. Anyone who heads for the exit before the seven seconds is up fails.

With an afternoon like that in prospect, it may not have been surprising that I find myself getting increasingly wound up during a morning spent learning about other potential hazards of life offshore, like fire and gas leaks.

While our instructor offers a reassuring mix of mateyness and authority, the news that one of his colleagues will ride “shotgun” with us in the helicopter to help anyone who starts to panic does nothing for my nerves.

Likewise, confirmation that another two divers will be stationed in the water to help out in case of trouble only underlines the fact that panic happens – although all who succumb to it will have to resit the test or lose their ticket.

No wonder that I am not feeling my best when zero hour arrives.

Squeezed into the thick waterproof suits that are designed to increase the chances of survival in the icy North Sea, the exercise starts with an introduction to a contraption called an EBS (Emergency Breathing System), which can provide the vital seconds of breath people may need to stay conscious long enough to get out.

Otherwise known as a “rebreather”, this is essentially a bag with a pipe and a mouthpiece attached that can be used to recycle air that is breathed into the bag before your head disappears under the water.

Users must have the presence of mind to take a deep breath as the helicopter sinks, then pull the toggle that opens the rebreather, then breathe out into it.

Get this right and the EBS should contain enough air to keep one going for 30 seconds or more until the carbon dioxide content becomes overwhelming. Get the order wrong and the contraption will have nothing in it to be rebreathed.

Practical instruction in the EBS tells me that while it is easy to get the mechanics right in the safety of a practice hall, the first mouthful of “rebreathed” air is so stale, and feels so wrong that the urge to spit the mouthpiece out and stick your head up out of the water is strong.

It takes what feels like a serious effort of will to keep using the EBS for the 20 seconds that I have to wait before I get a welcome tap on the head that says I am allowed to come up.

Whatever satisfaction I feel at mastering the EBS, however, vanishes with the daunting realisation that I am going to have to put my newly-acquired skill to use in a realistic situation.

The sequence of events starts with the command “stand by for ditching”, after which passengers should check the position of their seat harness and sea hood.

Then comes the order “brace, brace, brace” that all fliers will be familiar with.

The next step involves feeling to make sure you know where both the buckle that will open the four way harness that straps you into your seat and the nearest window or door are.

Then passengers are told “deploy the EBS”, to which they should pull a chord on their life jacket to open the flaps that cover the breathing apparatus, uncoil the pipe and fit the mouthpiece. Another check of the positions of the harness release and windows should follow.

When the water has reached around chest height, the final command “operate EBS” marks the point from which potential escapees are on their own.

Having spent years struggling to master drills that most motorists take for granted, like depress clutch, change gear, release clutch, I feel the odds on me getting this routine right are longer than those on Berwick Rangers winning the Scottish Cup.

A drill that features deploying the EBS and then making an exit into a life raft while the craft is still on the water then gives me chance to ponder the difficulties involved in moving around inside a metal box.

Nothing, however, prepares you for the nerve-shredding intensity of the first experience of sitting with the water rising around you and trying to resist the urge to rush for the exit. In my case, one voice told me to keep calm and remember what I had learned while another yelled “don’t panic” in classic Dad’s Army headless chicken fashion.

The first time we went under I was delighted to find I managed to keep calm long enough to start using the rebreather successfully.

But when I then found that the first two attempts to release the harness failed, I felt a sense of dread, accompanied by an attempt to start flailing my way out of my seat that was pure instinct.

Although I managed to get out unaided, our smiling “shotgun” subsequently confirmed he had been wondering if he should intervene.

Thanks to some helpful advice on buckle-release technique, I got out of my harness with no trouble in the second submersion, which involved having to force a window open.

However, once out of the harness I found that my natural buoyancy lifted me above the level of the exit. This prompted another mini-panic until I struggled down and out of the window.

The momentary exhilaration gave way to a hollow feeling when the helicopter started tilting for an exercise I knew would end up with me strapped upside down inside it, probably wondering where on earth the exit was.

Sitting watching as the water rose beats anything that I have ever experienced in the fear stakes by a long chalk, even the parachute jump that I once completed in a moment of folly.

With the pressure of the water building as the helicopter turned turtle, the seven secods that I waited before reaching for my harness felt like at least seven hours. Every nerve seemed to shout “get out”.

Then when the magic moment of release from the seat straps arrived, I discovered that trying to find the window in my confused state required another huge effort. Yanking myself through the space once I had found the window was no cakewalk.

By the time I found myself emerging above the surface of the pool, however, I was looking forward to regaling my children with the tale of my escape with a relish that would test their tolerance for dad’s stories to the full.

http://www.heraldscotland.com/business/corporate-sme/nerves-of-steel-needed-for-oil-rig-test-1.928522
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lkarapa
elite diver

Αριθμός μηνυμάτων : 1933
Ηλικία : 47
Τόπος : Άγιοι Ανάργυροι
Registration date : 22/11/2008

Επισκόπηση του προφίλ των χρηστών http://www.diverscorner.gr

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