Tuesday, 27 March 2012

It shouldn’t happen to a sailor (1) 

Life Threatening Life Raft

A friend was almost killed recently by a six man inflatable life raft – read on.

Jersey UK is a small island 9m x 5m, home to some 90,000 inhabitants none of whom live more than three miles from the sea. Sailing is a major activity here and the local government invests a great deal in teaching sailing, boating seamanship etc.  My friend (let’s call him John, to save his embarrassment) is an instructor at the Island’s sailing base. Each spring he organises a sea-safety course for young people. The highlight of the programme is to motor out into the bay and throw an inflatable life raft overboard for the kids to scramble into.

This can be an expensive exercise because afterwards the raft has to be deflated and professionally checked, restocked and repacked with a new CO2 gas bottle. One way to keep costs down is to use liferafts which are due their regular mandatory maintenance checks, they have to be inflated checked, deflated and repacked anyway.

John collected one such raft from the office in town, put it on the passenger seat of his Land Rover and set of for the harbour. En route, the vehicle bounced over a pot-hole and – you guessed it – the life raft began to inflate. In john’s own words:-

‘…dam thing went off life a firecracker… filled the cab and pushed my face against the screen and crushed me against the door… the pressure was building and building… thought it was going to push the windows out… couldn’t move my head… hit the brakes hoping there was no other vehicle on my tail.’

Then, just as he thought he was about to die, the inflating raft snagged something sharp in the cab and it began to deflate but John’s troubles were not over:-

‘the pressure came off and I heaved a huge sigh of relief… a moment later I realised my heart was pounding and I was taking in huge gulps of air but I couldn’t get my breath … something wasn’t right…  was I having a heart attack brought on by the shock and stress of the incident? ‘

No, this wasn’t a heart attack, this was suffocation. The CO2 gas which had initially inflated the raft had escaped through the life-saving puncture and now it had filled the cab, expelling all the air:-

‘so for a second time in as many minutes I thought I was going to die all over again… fortunately, I managed to push the cab door open, and fall onto the road… fresh air never tasted sweeter. Hey! Listen, this is quite embarrassing. You won’t tell anyone about this will you? 

No John. I won’t breathe a word!