a. Accident History. A review of current seaplane accidents on the water indicates that the pilots and passengers in inverted aircraft often survived the impact but were unable to evacuate the aircraft underwater and subsequently drowned. In some cases passengers were unable to unfasten their seatbelts, and, consequently, their bodies were discovered with little or no impact injuries still strapped to the seats. In other cases passengers were able to get out of their seatbelts but were unable to find an exit and/or open the exit because of impact damage or ambient water pressure. Those who did survive generally spoke of the extreme disorientation and that they did not exit in what may be considered a normal procedure; i.e., they did whatever they had to in order to get out of the aircraft.

(1) Opening a door underwater can be extremely difficult, and some operators adopt the practice of water taxiing with one door open at all times to permit easier egress. However, operators should check the POH or AFM for evacuation procedures since, in the event of capsizing, this practice could lead to the cockpit and cabin flooding sooner and a swifter sinking of the seaplane.

(2) In many cases pilots could exit relatively easily through a smashed cockpit windshield or the cockpit door and seemed to have less difficulty evacuating the seaplane because of their familiarity with it. Passengers, on the other hand, often do not have a thorough knowledge of their surroundings. Investigations of evacuations of air carrier aircraft have shown that passengers tend to want to exit through the door where they entered. It is likely this would hold true even for a small seaplane because where the passenger entered might be the only familiar frame of reference for the passenger in an emergency.

(3) In some of the accidents where pilots survived and passengers did not, investigation revealed that pilots had met the requirements of FAR Sec. 91.107 but did not go beyond that; i.e., did not brief passengers on how to exit in an emergency; on the location, donning, and inflation of life preservers or jackets; and on the procedures for an underwater exit of the aircraft. There were accidents where the pilot was injured or killed and could not assist passengers in an underwater evacuation. Therefore, a comprehensive preflight briefing, although not a regulatory requirement, can provide critical information to passengers so that they can help themselves. The information in that preflight briefing could make the difference between a successful evacuation and being trapped inside a submerged seaplane.

b. Evacuation. The pilot should never take for granted that people already know how to exit the seaplane. After an accident, and especially while submerged inverted in water, the passengers are likely to panic, but they will usually defer to what the pilot instructs. In their eyes, the pilot knows what to do.

(1) The pilot should keep commands simple and concise, since it is likely the passenger will cease to listen much beyond the initial order to evacuate. Pilots should issue commands and make decisions in a positive, confident, and expeditious manner.

(2) Being upside down can cause orientation problems. Once the turbulence of the upset has subsided, even though the pilot may have briefed passengers on situational awareness before takeoff, the pilot may still need to help passengers establish positive situational awareness so that they can determine left from right.

(3) Maneuvering while holding flotation devices can also be disorienting because it occupies the hands, making swimming or treading water difficult. This adds to the argument for the jacket type of life preserver. However, it is important to remember not to inflate the flotation gear until after exiting the seaplane. It is virtually impossible to swim downward to an exit (from an inverted position) with inflated flotation gear. Any preflight briefing on the use of inflatable flotation gear should include this vital point.

(4) Impact forces may jam normal or emergency exits and prevent them from operating. Pilots should be prepared to and have briefed passengers to be prepared to break out or kick out windows in order to escape. In many instances, this may be the only option for evacuation and everyone on board should plan to use this technique if necessary.
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