A Pilot's Perspective.

By Barry Meek.

February 2006

After the Crash

“Police have not yet released the name of a 25 year old woman who died on a remote mountain following the crash of her light plane.The rental aircraft disappeared two weeks ago while the student pilot was on her first solo cross country flight.  It was found about 60 miles off her intended course, in rugged terrain. Authorities speculate the pilot had survived the crash but succumbed to injuries, dehydration and hypothermia about four days later. The emergency locator transmitter was not activated.”

This short news item could appear in any paper, anytime.  At this point however, it’s just fiction designed to stir awareness of your survival skills.  The information in this article comes from personal observation and experience as a long time pilot and ambulance paramedic.  So far, it’s probably been a lot of good luck that’s kept me out of serious trouble.  But as they say, “learn from the experience of others.  You’ll never live long enough to make all the mistakes yourself.”  I try to live by that advice.

The AIP (now called the AIM, or Aeronautical Information Manual) states in effect, that the pilot must carry equipment sufficient for the survival of each person on board, considering the area, the season and anticipated weather. The very basics are a means to start a fire, provide shelter, obtain or purify water, and for visually signalling distress.

In simple terms, a tarp, matches, water bottle and signalling mirror would meet the regulations.  But here’s where it would be nice to have McGyvor along.  Innovation and imagination would go a long way toward ensuring the survival of  a downed pilot who is equipped with only the basics.   In summer, at low elevations it may be fine.  However, in winter or in mountainous terrain, things get a bit more complicated.  Most pilots carry more than the regulations require. And it seems to me the more experienced the pilot, the more equipment he has on board.  The four basics are a good start, but clearly they’re not sufficient for anyone who gets more than a few miles from a major road or settlement.

I’ll offer a comment on the first aid kit requirements for private aircraft.  The CARS 602.60 state what must be in that kit, but only for commercial operators.  Aircraft that are privately owned and operated carry whatever the owner is  comfortable with. Quite frankly, the list of recommended items for private operators is extremely insufficient, and a waste of space.  You can personalize your kit by first learning something about first aid, then use your imagination to anticipate injuries you’re likely to see following a forced landing or a crash.  Plan and pack appropriate items.  It need not be a huge, well stocked trauma kit. A small knapsack would work quite well.  It’s a good size, and can quickly and easily be removed from a wrecked aircraft.  If it’s done right, your fire starter, water purification tablets or filter, a couple of space blankets and a signal mirror will fit too.  There you go, both kits in one pack.  But don’t forget the survival and first aid books.  Preferably, read them before you leave the ground. 

There are no rules set in stone for survival.  Nor is there a right or wrong procedure for the administration of first aid.  You do whatever works given the time and circumstances.  I have yet to find a book that stresses principles over techniques.  It’s vital that you recognize what you need to accomplish, whether it’s starting a fire, building a shelter or stopping someone’s bleeding.  Then you set about doing it, utilizing your experience, knowledge and common sense.  We’re all born with at least a bit of common sense.  Knowledge can be found in a book, and hopefully the experience is something you won’t ever obtain.

The last line of our fictitious news item mentions that the ELT was not activated.  The student pilot apparently did a good job on her landing, or the device was faulty.  Remember an ELT is installed horizontally in your aircraft, and is activated by a switch that moves along its longitudinal axis.  From experience, I know it won’t come alive by dropping it on it’s flat surface.  But if you strike one end with the palm of your hand, it doesn’t take much force to set it off.  It goes without saying that the ELT should be physically accessed following a crash and switched manually to the ON position.  The student probably didn’t know that yet.

You need not be a survival expert or paramedic to do the right things following a forced landing or a crash.  Good flight planning should include planning for what’s not supposed to happen.  Think ahead to stay ahead.  Be safe this winter.

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