05 March 2007


I land to pick up the specialty team-
Doctor, Nurse, and Respiratory therapist, along with an isolette.
We are flying an hour South to pick up a very sick newborn.
The outside temperature is 25 degrees Fahrenheit, and these folks are all dressed in scrubs.
Blockheads! They've been told again and again how dangerous it is to fly unprepared.

Aviation is a risky business.
Some might quibble.... so let me qualify that statement a little-
Life is a risk.
None of us get out of life alive.

Part of the reason I love being involved with Aviation is because pilots know and gladly accept the risks that are involved. I'm still amazed by non-fliers that approach me and say, "I'd never fly in a helicopter... they're just too dangerous." And it's true, they certainly are more dangerous than sitting home on the sofa. But do you want to rub elbows with someone whose greatest interest in life is sitting on the sofa, watching "Deal, or No Deal"?
Not me!

So there's no question-
Flying is more dangerous than sitting at home watching TV.
As pilots we accept that fact and, to the degree we can, try to mitigate those risks:
We do a good preflight.
We take checkrides and flight reviews.
We learn and practice emergency procedures.
We wear seat belts and shoulder harnesses.
And so on...

In 1981 I attended the Aviation Safety Officer's Course at Ft. Rucker, Alabama.
The course prepared me to come back to my Division and observe our operations to insure our units were accomplishing the mission in the safest manner possible.

During the course, I heard a story that was like a ton of bricks bein' dropped on me:
In 1965, an Army Reservist took off from his base in a Hiller OH-23D, had an engine failure, and crashed in trees just 6 miles from his takeoff point. In the crash sequence the aircraft assumed a dramatic nose-down attitude, filtering it's way through the trees to the ground. The impact broke his right arm and both of his legs. The trees were covered in full summer foliage, which covered the wreckage in such a way that searchers couldn't see the crash site from the air.
The pilot somehow got out of the aircraft and used his good arm to get as far away from the helicopter as he could, then waited for rescuers to find him.

Three weeks later, by chance, a Hunter found him... dead.
Leaning against a tree, they found he had pulled out his wallet, and in a semi-circle in front of him had made a shrine of the pictures of his wife and two kids. He had also gathered kindling and tried, unsuccessfully, to light a fire. (Try striking a match with one hand.)

The thought of this guy... alone, critically hurt, waiting day after day for searchers to find him, had a profound effect on me.
When I finished that course and returned home, I decided to establish a survival school for my Division Aviators.

I signed up for a Cold Weather Survival School North of Ely, Minnesota, to get a feel for how I should write the syllabus for my school. When I arrived it was warm for that time of year... 15 degrees below Zero. We made our own shelters and spent three days and nights outside in the cold. I slept alone in a personally constructed snow shelter while the temperature outside dropped to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
(The long hours of darkness bothered me more than the cold temperatures.)
I hate cold weather, but I learned that if you are prepared for emergencies, have the proper attitude, and don't panic, you can survive almost anything.

When you go fly (or go drive your car), do you take emergencies into consideration?
If your journey ends short of it's intended destination, can you call for help? Can you survive until help arrives?

Be prepared.
Flying or driving, if bad things happen to you, you may end up being a pedestrian. It could be worse... you could be incapacitated in your vehicle with all the windows broken out, exposed to extreme cold until help arrives. If your rescue takes more than a few hours, access to food and water might also be critical.

It takes very little time, effort, and space to prepare for surprises.
Wear proper clothing for the weather... coat, headgear, gloves, footgear.
Have a "survival kit" appropriate for your circumstances-
blanket, flashlight, water, matches, snacks.
Cell phone coverage is expanding, and you don't have to subscribe to a service to make emergency calls... a working old phone will work in case of emergency.
Anytime I fly cross-country, I carry a handheld VHF transceiver...
just one more way to communicate.
I know I'm probably missing something here.
If you have something to add, please leave a comment.

No matter how much we plan, inspect, and practice, things can and do go wrong.
Flying, (and life), is safer when we are well prepared for the bad things that might happen


cary said...

Carrying enough to be prepared for EVERY SINGLE POSSIBLE CONTINGENCY is impossible - so the basics that you have outlined here (with variations for locale, weather, and type of transport) should get someone through the unexpected.

Here in Phoenix, we have the first aid kit, cell phones, and extra water; when we travel out of this temperate climate we add extra clothing that would be needed in a weather emergency.

When I drove truck for a living, I carried a case of C-rats with me at all times; never touched them due to the Good Lord watching over me and never needing them. But, it was comforting to know that if I ever got stuck I wouldn't starve...

Mike said...

When I took my checkride my examiner was also a flight instructor for the University here.

It was in January, bitterly cold and I remember having to de-fuel the little Cessna 152 because we were both big guys.

I was already nervous during takeoff and climbout because this guy was notorious for failing guys on the smallest detail. So, I tried making conversation.

"So, when you fly with your students in this kind of weather, do you put extra blankets or coats on board?"

He looked at me with a mixture of shock and disdain...

"I would NEVER fly with my students in this kind of weather!"


Thankfully I passed and he didn't count off for my choosing to fly in bitter temps with a half-full fuel tank.

As a side note-- I would fly in a single-engine helicopter ANY time over a multi-engine plane.

I would also fly in any contraption in which Greybeard was at the controls!

Aviatrix said...

Great post Greybeard. You could break all this stuff down into smaller chunks to say more about some of the topics.

I had to write an essay about what I would do in a described situation (me + injured pax + standard aircraft equipment) as part of my qualification for one of my companies.

Mike said...

Obvious answer:

Build a vacation house from the wreckage and eat the passenger.