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USAF Pararescue and Scuba Diving

Discussion in 'Diving History: Tales from the Abyss' started by John C. Ratliff, Jun 21, 2017.

  1. John C. Ratliff

    John C. Ratliff Instructor, Scuba

    # of Dives: I'm a Fish!
    Location: Beaverton, Oregon
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    As a former U.S. Air Force Pararescueman (1967-1977), and a fairly regular member of these Scubaboard forums, I have been asked to put together a thread on USAF Pararescue as it applies to SCUBA diving. But in order to do that, I need to tell you a bit about what Pararescuemen (PJs) do, and what we were required to do going through our "pipeline" of training. This is best described not by me, but by a letter that General Allison C. Brooks sent to my parents (which I didn't know about until much later). This letter describes what we were about to go through in 1967 as we sought to become PJs.
    This thread will describe some of my experiences, and that of others, as it relates to diving and Pararescue. Realize that diving was a small part of our duties, and that we combined recreational use of scuba with currency dives, for instance diving in Okinawa for lobsters while logging a currency dive. But some of it was very, very serious, such as your use of parascuba to get from the air into the water.

    We were trained to penetrate into the site of an accident or, under combat conditions, of someone in trouble, provide medical aid on-scene, and evacuate the survivor (and sometimes the bodies) of the people we came to help. To do this, we used whatever means of transport was available. Sometimes that was a fixed-wing aircraft, from which we would parachute. Sometimes that was a helicopter, and we would either deploy feet-wet by jumping or by descending from the helicopter hoist.

    Our symbol was the PJ Shield, which is shown below. The shield shows a parachute backdrop for an angel who's arms encircle the world, with the inscription below it "That Others May Live." That short inscription is part of the Code of an Air Rescue Man, written by General Richard T. Knight, Commander, Air Rescue Service 1946-1952*:
    This thread will include stories from the USAF Pararescue, some of them mine, some of them from others. My particular history is that I started going through the training in early 1967, graduated in September of 1967, then served first in Okinawa, then Korea, then Bermuda and Florida, and finally in Vietnam. I then got out of the USAF, and re-enlisted the next year (1972) and served another five years with the 304th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron (Reserve) in Portland, Oregon while I went through Oregon State University. While in the USAF Reserves, we had to maintain all the currency requirements of those PJs in the Regular USAF. So these stories will come from my experiences (which I'm currently compiling into a book), and from what I've heard from others. I invite other PJs and former PJs to tell their stories here too, and those who have been rescued or had contact with PJs, mostly as they pertain to water activities (this is ScubaBoard, after all).

    SeaRat

    *Pararescue, 50 Years, 1943-1993, A Commemorative History, Taylor Publishing Company, Dallas, Texas, 1996, page 2.
     

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Jun 21, 2017
  2. Sam Miller III

    Sam Miller III Scuba Legend Scuba Legend

    # of Dives: 5,000 - ∞
    Location: CALIFORNIA: Where recreational diving began!
    5,066
    3,936
    John
    Very interesting and certainly informative.

    I was in the USAF ten years previous to you....never needed Para rescue --I spent the majority of my USAF service in a desert environment. But if I had needed Para rescue I would have hoped it would have been some one like you

    You are another member I would enjoy having as a neighbor
    Keep up the good work

    Sam Miller III
     
    John C. Ratliff likes this.
  3. Akimbo

    Akimbo Just a diver Staff Member ScubaBoard Supporter

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    Thank you John. Now, pretend you're having a few drinks with your flyboy buddies and swapping stories trying to outdo the next guy. I'm that ex-squid sitting on a nearby bar stool soaking it all in... and being glad you guys were overhead and I never had to meet you at work. Please, go on.
    Oh, keep in mind there are ladies in the bar and the MPs are down the street. :cheers:
     
    Schwob, USMC CPL., BenjaminF and 2 others like this.
  4. Trailboss123

    Trailboss123 Divemaster

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Pacific Northwest, USA
    2,433
    3,159
    Thanks for posting John and keep it coming! As I mentioned to you before, my son is a PJ and currently stationed at the Portland base. I enjoy passing your posts along to him. I need to get him dialed in to Scubaboard. Will reach out to you when up in Portland and hopefully the 3 of us can get together.
     
    John C. Ratliff likes this.
  5. John C. Ratliff

    John C. Ratliff Instructor, Scuba

    # of Dives: I'm a Fish!
    Location: Beaverton, Oregon
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    We need to get some definitions down, and these stories are in no particular order. I could talk about our training, or about war stories, but this was an actual training parascuba jump that was conducted off White Beach, Okinawa in 1968. The jumper was Bill Davidson, and we were jumping out of an HU-16B Albatross amphibian aircraft.

    Now, you need a definition or two. The definition I'm talking about is a "pucker factor." This is a sliding scale of the tightness of a certain sphincter muscle controlling the bowels in response to stress, and it goes from zero to ten. A pucker factor of zero is when anything can be pushed up this particular opening, whereas a pucker factor of ten is when you cannot get a greased needle up that opening with a ten pound sledge hammer.

    Bill was jumping after we had already jumped, and was one of the last jumpers out of the Albatross. To do a parascuba jump out of the Albatross, you need to put one flippered foot (usually the left foot) up into the door, which is actually a hatch. Because this is an amphibian aircraft, the hatch is about a foot and a half higher than the floor, with only about four feet of opening vertically. The jumpmaster has his head up between your body sticking through the opening to line up the target, and begins his count up as the aircraft flies oven the spotter chute (a small chute with a 30 minute flare on it), counting up until the aircraft reaches the target, then counting down to zero, when the jumpmaster taps the jumper's thigh to initiate the jump. But in this case, Bill was the jumpmaster, and so the last out. He did his count, then counted down, and launched himself out the door. Normally, we go out the door head-first, pushing first with our elbows then using our left leg to push off into the prop blast to get a good body position. Bill did this, but when he looked up at his 'chute, he saw a nightmare.

    His 'chute, which I photographed in the first photo (Nikonos camera, 35mm lens), instead of opening as normal, had at least two lines over the top of the canopy, cutting the opening parachute into three blobs instead of a single huge (35 foot parabolic) canopy. That's what he saw when he looked up. So he reached up, and started working on the risers and the lines. Initially, nothing happened. Then, after a number of seconds, the lines rolled off, and he had a fully open chute. He had made the decision not to deploy his reserve parachute, and instead work through the riser groups and lines to try to get the main 'chute open, and it worked. But what he did not realize until much later was that his parachute was completely inverted. This can plainly be seen by tracing the riser groups and lines in the photo where he's about to enter the the water.

    After getting the chute open, the rest of the jump was pretty much normal. He released the right riser group upon enter the water (he was holding that group in his hand, as is normal procedure prior to entering the water), signaled he was okay, and we went in from the boat and picked both his 'chute and him up.

    Much, much later, when he finally saw these photos (only last year), he responded that when you get a situation like that, you "talk to God" on the way down. This one qualified as a pucker factor 10 jump.

    SeaRat
     

    Attached Files:

    Dark Wolf, Slow, Birddog1911 and 3 others like this.
  6. Akimbo

    Akimbo Just a diver Staff Member ScubaBoard Supporter

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    You managed to thread that needle on the first try. Nicely executed sir. :popcorn:
     
    John C. Ratliff likes this.
  7. tilikum

    tilikum Banned

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    Talk about working a problem when time is most certainly not on your side.
     
    John C. Ratliff likes this.
  8. Bubblesong

    Bubblesong ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
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    Good thing Bill Davidson did not see these photos right away, saved him from 50 years of nightmares!:shocked:
     
    Trailboss123 and John C. Ratliff like this.
  9. Trailboss123

    Trailboss123 Divemaster

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Pacific Northwest, USA
    2,433
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    Keep it coming John-- You are the MAN!! Here is a photo of my son. To this day, I'm not sure if he landed in the river, lake or desert. LOL!
    #RescuePJ's! #ThatOthersMayLive!

    upload_2017-6-21_19-28-9.png
     
  10. MichaelMc

    MichaelMc Working toward Cenotes ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Berkeley, CA
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    This is a PJ thread, yet I can vouch for the story of a navy jumper with a quick high p factor. It was a periodic static line round chute jump so everyone could stay current with quals. The jump master had concerns that some less active jumpers might be slow off the ramp, so admonished the jumpers to stay tight on the jumper in front of them.

    After leaving the ramp, tight behind a less current jumper who might have been slow off the ramp, our jumper found themselves standing in a depression knee to waist deep in the top of the lower jumper’s chute. Meaning the higher chute was being shadowed by the lower chute, thus causing the higher jumper to start falling faster. But as the higher jumper was standing on something, the higher chute might also just collapse. It was not the place to stay.

    Making a guess on where to go, the higher jumper turned their risers to steer to the side and twisted to also walk off the chute, away from the lower chute’s direction of travel, and the vent holes to the rear, taking maybe two to three seconds. After the higher jumper was clear and moving away, the lower jumper yelled that they were too close to be safe. Everyone landed safely. When the lower jumper then admonished the higher jumper about jump safety, it was explained to them what exactly had already been long over when they yelled.

    I heard of a navy jumper surviving a square chute getting twisted into a dumbbell in the risers like the PJ Bill’s chute, this one caused a tight flat corkscrew ending in a very convenient rubbish pile on the ground, I think of tires, the odds were long against that.

    No gear or tanks involved, just chutes. I'm sure a lot of the first incident happened in the combat loaded mass jumps our granddad's generation did, but with almost no quick ability to move.

    That’s all I know of. I look forward to more of John’s first hand PJ jump and dive insights. We had an active reservist PJ serve once or twice as the duty surface support DM/Instructor during my scientific diver training, he also served as the shadow for I and my buddy on one or two dives. One guy from that class went into the PJs. Go anywhere medics that others may live is a guts to the wall mission. Being talked through surgery over radio, damn. Be safe so they can also.
     
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2017

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