109 Aircrew completes water survival and emergency parachute training

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Madison Scaringe
  • 109th Airlift Wing

Thirty-eight New York National Guard Airmen from the 109th Airlift Wing got their feet and their parachute harnesses wet during water survival and parachute landing training at New York’s Great Sacandaga Lake on August 5 and 6.

The 41 square-mile man-made lake is located northwest of the wing’s home at Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia.

The wing conducted the training at the Mayfield, New York field office of the Hudson River-Black-River regulating district, which is responsible for regulating the water flow of the massive lake.

The Airmen—pilots, flight engineers, navigators, load masters, flight doctors and aeromedical evacuation nurses—learned the basics of surviving a parachute landing at the Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape School. They are required to requalify in these skills every three years.

“The idea is to make these trainings as realistic as possible,” said Master Sgt David Gillis, the Lead Aircrew Flight Equipment Continuation Training Instructor.

“In parachute training, students practice multiple types of malfunctions that could happen when deploying their parachute. They go over how to best correct any malfunctions that may arise,” he said.

Landing in the water is one of the more challenging situations, and Airmen used the lake to practice this.

Students reviewed how to find their way out if the 28-foot parachute landed on top of them in the water.

“A lot of people panic because the wet fabric clings to your face and feels suffocating,” said Capt. Nicholas Chakurmanian, a navigator at the 109th Airlift Wing.

“We’re taught to float on our back, push the fabric off of our face and find one of the parachute cords. Then you grab on and just keep pulling until you find your way out,” he explained.

Along with parachute disentanglement, Airmen practiced a situation as if their parachute was being dragged through the water by the wind, bringing the Airman attached with it, Gillis said.

“To mimic this scenario, we attach rope to a student’s harness and pull them through the water. This gives them a controlled and safe environment to practice releasing themselves from the parachute,” he said.

Students ran through multiple topics including familiarization of flotation devices and life rafts, how to camouflage a raft against enemies and how to alert search and rescue parties.
Throughout the training, rescue divers and first responders were geared up with air tanks and stayed with the students in case of a real-world emergency, Gillis said.

The course also reviewed how to properly deploy a parachute and land safely on the ground in different conditions, including in trees, powerlines, or in the dark.

“Instead of keeping your eyes on the ground, we’re taught to look at the horizon, fall straight and keep our legs bent. That way we don’t tense up in anticipation of hitting the ground and shattering our knees on impact,” Chakurmanian said.

Donning the parachute harness, Airmen hung suspended from a metal frame that left their feet dangling three feet above the ground.

“Being clipped into the risers gives you a great sense of what it feels like to actually be attached to a parachute” said Chakurmanian.

“You have tons of tiny lines that can get tangled over your parachute, and in the real world you would have to figure out how to untangle them while you’re falling through the air. Being suspended gave us a more realistic way to train for that situation,” he said.

Students said spending a sunny day at the lake while still getting intense hands-on training was a welcomed change of pace from typical drill weekends.

“Safety is our number one priority in trainings like these. We want to make it realistic. Ensuring the proper safety steps have been taken means we can continue to do it for years to come,” Gillis said.