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What Do You Wear When Over Water?

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Restriction placed on survival suit worn by airman killed in chopper crash


HALIFAX -- The Canadian military has ordered its search and rescue helicopter crews to stop using the type of survival suit worn by an airman killed in a recent crash, a move that has prompted the suit’s manufacturer to wonder why the suit was used for aircrew training in the first place.


Master Cpl. Kirk Noel, a 33-year-old search and rescue technician from St. Anthony, N.L., was wearing a bright-orange, Mustang “floater suit” when the CH-149 Cormorant he was flying in nose-dived into the Atlantic during a training exercise near Canso, N.S., on July 13.


Two flight engineers, Cpl. Trevor McDavid, 31, of Capreol, Ont., and Sgt. Duane Brazil, 39, of St. John’s, N.L., also died in the night time crash, though it remains unclear what they were wearing.


All three men were in the chopper’s rear cabin when the aircraft hit the water and flipped over.


The four crew members in the front of the helicopter survived.


Shortly after the crash investigation started, the military sent an e-mail to rescue personnel, saying, “Use of Mustang floater suits aboard search and rescue aircraft is no longer supported by this command … As such, all units currently using the MFS as part of their kit during flying duties are to cease doing so immediately.”


The full-body garment is bulky, buoyant and lined with a wetsuit to provide warmth. The suit was supposed to be used only during training exercises. Dry suits, which are close-fitting and waterproof, are used during regular duty.


Maj. Michel Pilon, the military’s lead crash investigator, declined to comment on whether the floater suits’ buoyancy could have affected any of the crew member’s ability to swim to an exit, saying this is part of an investigation that may take up to a year or more to complete.


However, a sales manager with Mustang Survival Ltd., a leading marine safety firm based in Richmond, B.C., said he was surprised to learn the floater suits were being used by helicopter crews, even during training exercises.


“In a downed helicopter situation, where you’re trying to evacuate a fuselage, you don’t want that much flotation, it’s just going to make it harder to get out the emergency door,” said Scott Winton, Mustang’s sales manager.


“Even the idea of using the float suits in a training scenario in a helicopter, not even in hindsight, but in standard search and rescue procedure, is probably a bad idea. I don’t know how they (the Defence Department) came up with that policy.”


Ivon Paulin, the company’s military specialist, disagreed somewhat with Winton’s view, saying the buoyancy level of the floater suit is under the maximum allowed for helicopter crew.


However, he said the company makes two other suits that would be better for search and rescue technicians, mainly because they are less bulky and more fire retardant.


“Put it this way, I think the (floater) suit was one that was always recognized for marine (boat) applications, as opposed to aviation applications,” Paulin said in an interview.


Maj. Kevin Toone, a spokesman for 1 Canadian Air Division in Winnipeg, said the military had previously decided to buy more dry suits, and the recent decision to pull the floater suits was made, in part, because funds have been made available for the purchase.


“The Mustang floater was initially brought in to serve a temporary need for a suit that could be quickly put on and taken off during flight,” Toone said in an e-mail. “The suit was seen as a good design given circumstances … and was therefore retained for training scenarios.”


Peter Gibbs, senior trainer at Survival Systems in Dartmouth, N.S., said dry suits are preferable because floater suits present some difficulties when a helicopter is upside down in the water.


“The buoyancy of it makes it awkward to move around in,” said Gibbs, whose company is best known for training people how to escape from submerged helicopters.


“To be perfectly honest, the Mustang floater suit is not the ideal system to wear inside a helicopter … It can be an issue when you’re unstrapped and you’re moving around in the back because it’s very buoyant.”


Gibbs said he’s seen trainees struggling to deal with buoyant suits during escape exercises.


He also said they can let in cold water unless they are tightly sealed, creating a shock that can affect the wearer’s ability to breathe.


It remains unclear how Noel died. His mother, Wavey, has said the family has yet to receive a coroner’s report.


The family of flight engineer McDavid has confirmed that an autopsy showed he drowned.

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When flying offshore on the West coast I wear a Mustang survival vest, which has a water activated becan light. The vest is not TP approved for flight since it only has one CO2 cartridge, therefore legally we still have to carry the "orange" inflatable vests. In my opinion the legal vests would be impossible to fit over a helmet, and to try and find the vest under the seat upsidedown in the water at night would not be a task I would enjoy.

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thanks for the "heads up" on this... bought 5 floater suits for our unit only last year... given this information, we'll be passing those new suits along to our marine folks and lobbying the REMFs for the mac200s...



Hey Copper


The MAC 300 is the latest development, and it seems to be a step up from both the 100 & 200. Since they are being purchased for you, why not get the best, right?

MAC 300 Here

They also have these vests which might match with what you need.

Life Vests Here


Also, you might want to look at the Switlik constant wear vests. I wear one and I swear by it, very comfortable.

Switlik website

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In my opinion the legal vests would be impossible to fit over a helmet, and to try and find the vest under the seat upsidedown in the water at night would not be a task I would enjoy.


Never mind at night. We did a water egress course, and in the pool, where you knew it was "safe," I wouldn't attempt to get the 'underseat' vest. I just wanted to get out, and 15 - 20 seconds seemed like 15 - 20 minutes...


Throw in a muddy beaver pond or the "clean" Ontario lakes and things just go from bad to worse.


Take a course if you get the chance. You'll be glad you did.

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