Every pilot needs to prepare for the unexpected. Although surviving a crash is one of those “I hope it never happens” events, it’s something you need to consider for yourself and your passengers. If something happens, your passengers will look to you for leadership and survival.
The latest edition of the FAA’s FlySafe Campaign, designed to educate general aviation pilots about the best practices to calculate and predict aircraft performance and to operate within established aircraft limitations, offers several important survival tips (below).
The FAA also recommends supplementing this information with the appropriate training and preparation. A number of courses are available, including a one-day, post-crash survival course tailored for GA pilots offered by the FAA Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI).
This course, and others like it, are designed to introduce pilots to the knowledge and skills needed to cope with various common survival scenarios. It also teaches students how to assemble a personal survival kit.
We’re On the Ground…What Next?
The unexpected happened, and you were forced to put your plane down. You survived and your passengers appear to be ok, too. Do you know what to do next?
A common acronym that can help is STOP: Stop. Think. Observe. Plan.
Stop: Your adrenaline is flowing. Once you and your passengers are safely away from the aircraft, try to calm down. Avoid panicking.
Think: Prioritize your next moves. First, are there any life-threatening injuries? What resources do you have for first aid? Can you signal for help?
Observe: You need shelter to survive, so start surveying your surroundings. Do you have food or water available? Can you start a fire? Do you know how much time there is before nightfall?
Plan: Conserve your energy. Focus all of your efforts on the goal of survival and rescue. Plan for your immediate needs of first aid, shelter from the elements, signaling for help and ensuring all in your party are safe. If possible, stay with or near the aircraft to improve your chances of being found.
Calm, thoughtful action is what will help you survive until rescue.
No matter where you fly, you should always equip your aircraft with a survival kit. There are several that are available commercially, but you can also assemble a personal survival kit that is custom-tailored to your mission.
Some common items you’ll want to make sure you have in your aircraft include: A multi-tool or knife, a flashlight with extra batteries, rope, a signaling device, a compass, first aid kit, waterproof matches, bug repellant, and gloves.
Be sure to have some water and non-perishable food as well in case you have to wait some time before being rescued.
Carrying some of these items in a fishing or survival vest is a good idea, as you may only be able to walk away from the aircraft with the clothes on your back.
And don’t forget to leave room in your vest for a 406 MHz personal locator beacon. These relatively low-cost devices are a great adjunct to the aircraft’s emergency locator transmitter.
Clothing is one area often overlooked when it comes to surviving an aircraft accident. As clothing is your primary shelter in a survival situation, plan your attire accordingly for all areas and weather conditions along your route of flight.
Dressing in layers is always a good idea. That way you can adjust as conditions change. Consider cotton or wool outer garments rather than synthetics, pants rather than shorts or skirts, and closed toe shoes rather than sandals.
If you are traveling over water, or traveling internationally, it’s a very good idea to have life rafts or life preservers on board. The FAA has no specific requirement for GA aircraft to carry these items, but ICAO requires them when traveling internationally.
Another critical tip for improving your chances for survival is to file a flight plan, even when flying VFR. This enables flight tracking and means that emergency services will be alerted should you not arrive at your destination when expected.
Finally, there is one item that tops every successful survivor’s list. It’s considered by experts to be the prime factor in determining whether one lives or dies: It is the will to survive.