NEW LONDON, CT (WFLX) - Escaping from a Navy jet is easy -- just pull the eject lever. But when you're in a submarine, more than 800 feet below the ocean's surface in frigid water, it makes escaping a lot more difficult. Now, the Navy has a new way to train submariners how to escape, when they have no other way out.
The person inside this suit is preparing for the worst. At the naval submarine base New London in Groton, Connecticut, sits an 84,000 gallon trainer tank, the only one in the United States.
"The intention of this trainer is to give submariners confidence that when they go out on their submarine, in the unlikely event that something catastrophic happens, they will have the ability to escape," Raymond Miller, Head of the High Risk Division at the Naval Submarine Base New London, CT, told Ivanhoe.
Thirty-seven feet below the surface, students put on a specially designed suit and step into a chamber identical to one found on a submarine. The door is sealed behind.
"This is the most realistic submarine escape training in the world," Miller explained.
As the chamber floods with water, the submariner attaches his suit to a valve, inflating it with air.
"You got this hand plugged in and this hand holding on, so you're holding yourself how because as the water comes up, this is really buoyant," Miller said.
Buoyancy is the force that helps you float. It's also what propels the submariner and his inflated suit to the surface when the hatch opens. The submariner moves at a speed of 600 feet per minute, taking just seconds to reach the top.
"You feel like a giant balloon pretty much rocketing to the surface," Schipper Matthew C., submariner, explained.
As he rises to the surface, the submariner exhales as much air from his lungs as he can to prevent CO2 from getting into his bloodstream.
"What we do is we have them say, 'Whoyah,' on the way up," Miller said.
Trainers confirm the submariner is okay. Experts agree training like this is critical.
"It's like any environment where there is inherent risk," Michael Lilburn, submariner, said. "You do everything you can to minimize and mitigate that risk."
"Well I guess you hope that you'll never have to use this training that we went through, but yeah, it's good to have done it and to know what's coming if you ever have to use it," Natharn Randall said.
"It's a peace of mind," John David Maranda, explained.
With help from physics: preparing for worst, but hoping for the best.
The suits the submariners wear are also equipped with a life raft that can be immediately inflated when they get to the surface. The British have tested this emergency escape equipment at 600 feet under sea water.