Knowing what to do in the event of an aviation emergency is an essential tool in every pilot’s kit. In this post, we’ll take you through what you need to be prepared for a possible emergency, as well as how to survive in the unlikely event one actually happens.
Preparing for an emergency
Preparing for an emergency situation involves both furnishing yourself with the necessary training and making sure you have the items you’d need if an emergency were to occur.
You should first and foremost have adequate first-aid training so you’d know what measures to take if you or a passenger developed a health issue such as hypothermia or needed life-saving intervention such as CPR. Your first-aid qualification should be current, and you should regularly test yourself to ensure your competency.
You should be knowledgeable and capable when it comes to surviving outdoors — meaning you must possess the skills to do things like light a fire even when you don’t have the common ‘tools,’ build a shelter from natural materials, and signal for help.
In addition to staying abreast of the necessary training, you should also regularly practice emergency situations so you can anticipate how you’d need to react and so you can understand specifics for your aircraft such as best glide speed and glide ratio.
The last piece of the preparation puzzle is to put together your aircraft’s survival kit. Though you can purchase ready-made kits, it’s far preferable to build your own so you can tailor it to your and your aircraft’s needs. What you should include in your kit largely depends on the environment in which you typically fly; if you do mostly over-water trips, your kit can omit certain items that an overland kit absolutely needs, such as a fire-lighting set and a water container.
When building your kit, you’ll need to take into account its size and weight. It should include enough for at least one overnight stay wherever you end up, and it should be able to cover the number of passengers your aircraft can carry.
It should also include:
- Survival blankets
- A satellite phone or some form of satellite tracking (such as a Spider)
- Signal mirror
- Cups and spoons
- Warm clothing (hats, gloves, socks)
- Windproof/waterproof layers
- Plastic bags (large and small for ponchos and shoe coverings)
- Duct tape
- Hot drinks (tea/hot chocolate)
Surviving after an emergency
Being prepared for an emergency situation will give you the literal tools you need to survive — but should an event occur, you’ll need to take certain measures afterward to keep yourself and your passengers safe.
First: stay near the aircraft. If you determine that it’s not safe to actually remain inside or next to it, move to a safe distance away, but keep it in sight.
Next: determine your priorities. First-aid is number one, so if you or a passenger is hurt, perform the necessary actions to the best of your ability.
Once any injuries or health concerns have been tended to, think clothing, shelter, and warmth. Change into appropriate garments from your survival kit (or use blankets if your kit doesn’t include clothing); decide where you’ll shelter until rescue arrives (either in the aircraft, in a structure made from natural materials, or in an emergency shelter from your kit); and build a fire.
Once these essentials have been addressed, signal for help using a Spider, an ELT, ground-to-air signals, arrows, fires, etc.
Then, focus on water and food. Distribute snacks to everyone — and if you can, make hot drinks as well. Staying warm is critical.
But there’s one thing that takes precedence over all these actions — and that’s maintaining a good attitude. Staying positive and projecting calmness and confidence will put both you and any passengers at ease, and it’s the most important tool in your kit.
The Rule of Threes
If all else fails, remember the Rule of Threes. New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority provides an excellent chart on this that lays out how long you can survive without the essentials. Here’s a truncated list:
- Air: 3 minutes
- Clothing and shelter: 3 hours
- Rest: 30 hours
- Water: 3 days
- Food: 3 weeks