Crashing in the wilderness... some thoughts
Sorry about the length of the post!
Hey fellow VAFers,
Because I feel this is an important post, I?ve been working on it for a few days.
A bit of history regarding this post. Recently I?ve watched several videos where regular people unexpectedly find themselves in situations that ended up potentially life threatening. After watching several of these videos, I?ve noticed there were some common denominators. One is in each case they?ve unintentionally found themselves in these situations and finally reached a point in their struggles way to early on that they have zero options left. As pilots we should be prepared, having at least thought about the what?s and hows after a successful forced landing. As pilots, we always need to have plan B and never have the thought of ?there is nothing left I can do.?
Naturally as pilots we most often think of the aviation side of flying. I looked at my checklist and online at some others. That?s were the checklist ran out. They all do a fantastic job of getting everything configured to give us the best chance of survival in the event of that hopefully never to happen off airport landing?. Hmmmm, off airport landing. Almost makes it sound like something that?s routine. In the real world and in the heart of hearts of most pilots, I think we still call it a crash. I don?t know? maybe that?s politically incorrect now days. :-) Take note though that is where the checklist ends. I hadn?t given much thought regarding survival in the event of hours or days until help arrives. I did have a little survival kit but didn?t know how to use half the stuff in there. All of this left me thinking despite having the little kit, I didn?t have a survival plan, not even a little one.
Things like being lost in a desert, jungle, mountains or lost at sea. All of this had me thinking about myself and the flying I do. I?ve never flown into mountains over a jungle or desert. With that thought I found it unlikely that I could ever end up in a situation as the people I?ve referred to. With that said, I have found that on cross countries, I?ve often looked down only to find very large areas of forest sprawling out for many miles in every direction. If I lost it and ended up crashing in the trees I have concluded that even then, helping hands may be a long ways/time away. For that reason I?ve put together what I feel to be a decent survival plan and kit.
Important thoughts to consider. The most important things that could make or break your chances for survival and at the very least, provide some level of comfort while waiting for help.
2. A form of nutritional support
3. Shelter (dry)
5. Some way to communicate
In each of the videos I watched, most of the victims left out 3 or 4 of these items. Each one survived but their ordeal was unimaginably miserable! Had they covered the essentials in the list above most would have ended up with not much more than a good story to tell.
Now lets assume for the purposes of this discussion that you?ve survived an unexpected landing in the middle of you're not so sure where and the last road or sign of people was maybe 25 miles back. You know you didn?t file a flight plan and you weren?t using flight following. Because of the stress of the moments preceding the crash, you can?t remember if you even made a mayday call and now wonder if the ELT is doing it?s job. If you made the call and the ELT is working well that?s all just a little more icing on our cake. However, don?t assume all is well and folks are mobilizing to discuss a way to find and haul your butt out of the this mess. This is where the forethought and planning might help save the bacon. Hopefully your not injured. Personally if I?m like the scare crow with ?My liver?s over there and my legs are over here!? and I find I can now use the splintered end of my femur as a toothpick?. think I?ll just close my eyes and start praying. Thankfully you?ve made it through with just a few knocks and dings and only your pride ends up in the toilet. Back to the list.
1. Water: This one is the most important simply because the average person can only go 3 or 4 days without water. If flying over sparsely populated areas, always carry a few bottles of water in the plane…. just in case! Another option here is the survival water drinking filtration device. Very cheap and according to the manufacture good to filter up to 100,000 gallons of water from puddles, streams, lakes etc as long as its a fresh water source. It filters out 99.99999% of bacteria/protoza etc. For what it doesn’t filter out carry along some water purification tablets. As far as the bottles of water your hopefully brought. Keep those containers to put more water in.
2. Nutrition: Best advice here is toss a few packs of crackers/candy bars in the plane. They will provide you an energy boost in case of a prolonged rescue. Some people in the videos were lost for a few weeks before rescue and found themselves trying to eat almost anything even bugs. Just this past weekend we took my grandkids to the insect museum in New Orleans. They have some things cooked up with certain bugs mixed in. I passed, there just wasn’t anything on the menu that wet my appetite. I once knew a fellow that was a POW for a few years. He told me stories of eating cockroaches because it was the only thing available. He said he saw other POW’s trying to eat the leather from shoes. Sad!
A few packs of crackers/candy bars tossed in the plane and if rationed would sustain you for a good while.
3. Shelter: If you were flying out to camp someplace you’d probably have camping supplies and a tent anyway. If you were just going A to B with nothing but a jacket hmmm, I don’t have much good advice. It can get very hot or very cold. Being prepared may mean having something in your bag of tricks that might be as simple as a rain poncho or a piece of plastic that might keep you dry. Based on my personal experience and common sense, (which was in short supply for me), being able to stay dry is paramount in a wilderness situation. Being damp/wet adds to the cold and misery. Even in the summer months in can get cool at night. My personal experience. I wasn’t wet but everything in my little Wal-mart tent would have ended up that way. This was just last year at the Petit Jean fly in. The rain started late evening. When I realized my tent was leaking…. bad…. I grabbed everything and ended up spending the entire night in a utility closet between the men and womens showers/bathrooms. Woke up once with a granddaddy long leg crawling across my face. Now I have a tent with double walls and it’s suppose to prevent stuff like this. It should because it cost a good deal more than that walmart tent. Being able to remain dry in an already bad/critical/survival situation…. priceless.
4. Heat/warmth/fire: Another very important thing to be able to do is be able to build a fire. Matches and lighters are good. I have the all weather matches. The business ends are dipped in I think wax to keep them dry. I have some in a water tight container too. Also have a standard bic lighter. This one worries me …. a little. I have heard of them blowing up. This must be very rare though because there are literally millions of them in use. So, I thinks it’s worth the risk. I recently acquired a carbon stick and tried it. Super easy and was able to make a fire with nothing but the sparks from the stick. Vaseline soaked cotton balls fire right up. Also keep chapstick and some q-tips. Twist the q-tip around in the chapstick, then fluff the cotton tip out a little hit it with a few sparks from the carbon fire stick and WALA…. you’ve made fire. Remember how excited Tom Hanks was after creating fire in Castaway? Imagine a real life situation
and now YOU are the star of the show. The fire will warm you, dry you, help keep bugs away as well as some critters that may be licking their chops in the distance. It may even help rescuers find you. God forbid your stuck out in this wilderness long enough that you have to use a fire to actually cook up some sort of wildlife cuisine!
5. Some way to Communicate: I’ll list a few then discuss a couple of them. Starting from the pre-crash checklist….. communication with family and friends of your plans to fly and your intended route of flight is a good place to start. Filing a flight plan and using flight following is great too. Puts the odds much more in your favor if the unthinkable happens. Hopefully you managed the mayday call and the ELT is pinging away the position of the latest mass of twisted aluminum that will be the NTSB’s next assignment. Here again, let’s not assume anything. We have to be proactive now and take it upon ourselves that, WE the guy/girl that’s actually in this pickle jar of trouble, are able to in someway
communicate our predicament to others. There are several options available. Personal locator beacons have saved many. I don’t have one and have never used them. I do see there is the purchase price for the beacon and then an annual subscription that must be paid. If you're flying over inhospitable areas frequently this might be a good option. For the pilots that fly a couple three times a year over unknown territory it seems to be a rather expensive option. Forget your cell phone. Better to pretend it’s not even there. Chance are if you're more that a few miles deep in some wilderness, it won’t have a signal. Of course try it but just don’t count on it. (((EDITED HERE: Despite not having a cellular reception, you can still use the camera flash feature to signal an aircraft/helicopter))) A VHF handheld radio is a good option. This is what I have. Spend some time working and becoming very familiar with it. In an emergency survival situation, the human brain frequently turns to mush. Not the time to be trying to remember how it works. Make sure the batteries are charged too. Whistles! This is one of the most under estimated useful tools in these situations. In those videos people spent many hours yelling for help. The human voice simply doesn’t carry very far. Having a whistle increased the distance of being heard by a factor of almost 10. I read that somewhere. There are a couple whistles on the market that are labeled as the “worlds loudest” and “emergency rescue whistles.” I have one of each and can say their claims are true… at least to my ears! They are the Fox 40 Sonik Blast and the Storm safety whistle. To me the Storm is the louder of the two. In case I’m injured in a crash and unable to move I have one hanging right in front of me on the carb heat knob. Anyone with in a couple miles will know Pauls got himself into some kind of trouble. Incidentally, now I also keep one in the glove box of my car. Flares would be great but I’ve never used one and wonder about the explosive/fire hazard possibility in the plane. One last thing to help is an airhorn like is used at sporting events. They are incredibly loud and come in small sizes. If you were injured and unable to blow a whistle very hard tooting this horn is going to get a lot of noise a long ways out. While I’m on this subject, I saw on a survival educational video some information that was new to me. Three whistle blows,
or (air horn), in a row are considered a distress signal. Another use of the super loud whistle/horn might be to keep unwanted critters like bobcats or bears away. Better than nothing I’d think. How about a flashlight for a couple of reasons. Nice to have at night for looking off into the woods to see what spooks are lurking just beyond the glow of the campfire. The flash light can be an invaluable signaling device. The LED ones are, as my grandkids would say “super dooper” bright. Get one that has the flashing/strobe function too. Along with the horn/whistle, the super bright strobe effect might help scare a bear off while you’re waiting for the pilot drowning along a few thousand feet above to notice you.
This is not a see all end all checklist for survival. Just a few of the things that’s crossed my mind in the last few weeks. As pilots we always launch into the wild blue with full exceptions of reaching our intended destinations. Those are the days when everything goes right. On a day when something might go just wrong enough that we end up having to depend on our guts and instincts to get us through, don’t let the day it happens be the first time you’ve ever thought about it.
I haven’t mentioned anything to do with ditching in water. I feel this is a specialized area and well beyond my imaginative skills. Off the top of my head, A life boat/vest of course, a way to signal radio and whistle. Maybe candy bars. Hopefully everything is in a plastic water tight bag. Water survival IMHO would be the absolute worst and most hopeless situation I personally could imagine. If you ever plan to fly any distance over water… do the homework in the comfort
of home sitting in your lazy boy!
To go along with this post I made a short video going through my survival kit. Here’s the link to that.
Tail Winds and happy flying.
Actually shelter is the number priority especially in hot desert environments and equally important for very cold climates. Shelter first then water followed by food.
There's the 3x3x3 rule, you can go 3 weeks without food, 3 days without water and 3 minutes without oxygen.
With today's technology someone should know approx where you are at all times. I avoid very inhospitable terrain, that's my insurance for survival👍:)
Safety always begins with YOU:)
AOPA after the crash video
Good topic - here is a good video on it.
1. Survivable cockpit (proper restraints, large loose items secured, etc.)
2. A way to get out of a flipped airplane such as a canopy breaker tool. Attach in a location where you can reach it when hanging upside down.
3. Personal locator beacon. I use the Garmin InReach Mini. Attach it to yourself so that even if you barely escape a burning wreckage and lose all your other stuff, at least you can signal for rescue.
4. Personal survival kit (PSK). Small enough to fit in a pocket. Mine is basically a knife, fire starter, and a few other small items typical of PSKs.
5. Cheese crackers. The one time I found myself in a life raft in the ocean, I happened to have a package of cheese crackers in my G suit pocket. This was the biggest morale booster ever. :)
...then everything else the other guys said. All good.
In my kit...
I live up north in the country and could get stuck overnight on my way home from work if the snow is bad enough so I keep a survival kit in my car, and in the plane when I'm traveling. I was also on a wilderness rescue team years back, so spending a night or two in who-knows-where is nothing new to me, so I like to be prepared.
My kit has grown over the years and is organized into 5 groups (in no particular order):
Signal mirror, compass, whistle (fox40 is good)
Water reservoir (collapsible), water filter (LifeStraw), iodine tabs, cliff bars, emergency rations, oatmeal packs
Radiant tarp (orange & reflective w/ grommets), radiant blanket (cheap type), poncho, hair ties, lighter (bic), matches (waterproof in case), magnesium starter, bandannas (orange), hand warmers, head bug net
Head lamp, light sticks (12hr), folding saw, multi tool (Gerber MP400), knife sharpener, work gloves (rubberized), paracord (50'), portable stove (w/ pot), stove fuel, insect repellant, lip balm, backpack (to hold everything), power stick (USB, for phone), phone charge cable, notebook/pen (very small), AAA batteries (lithium, for head lamp)
First Aid - (in its own zip-top bag for easy access)
Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Claritin, pads (for the ladies), quickclot, med tape, gauze pads, gauze roll, gloves, Band-Aids, shears, tweezers, mold skin, tick twisters (to remove ticks)
My stuff is organized into a small backpack and weighs about 10lbs. Now this lives in my car and has way more than any person needs. Some of it is important, and some is just nice to have when I'm away from home (hair ties for the wife, for instance).
Two important things...
Use everything in your kit before you put it in your kit.
Before you need them you want to know that your folding saw can't cut anything, or the rations you packed makes you sick. Camp overnight in your backyard with just your kit. It will be an eye-opening experience.
And second, have an accurate inventory printed out and in the kit.
Think of it like a checklist. When you have a problem, look down the inventory and see what you have that can fix the problem. Much better than pulling everything out of your kit every 5 mins, or suffering with bugs in your eyes before you remember you have a head bug net.
A few points in hopes of spurring further conversation...
1) a correction... 406MHz PLBs do NOT have an annual subscription fee. Other devices such as Spot, InReach, SpiderTracks etc are all subscription-based, but the PLB is like your ELT - zero subscription fees. You pay those fees every year when you pay your taxes, the funds that go to pay for SAR services in your country.
2) Shelter is paramount, as has been pointed out previously. Not mentioned and of critical importance is shelter from biting insects. In some parts of the world the insects can be more than an annoyance. More than one crash survivor has been driven to make life-threatening decisions under the mental strain of trying to get away from the bugs. At a minimum, a tent with good screens will provide shelter from the elements as well as the bugs. A bug headnet and/or jacket isn't a bad idea either. Bug spray is of very little use as it won't stop the bugs from forming a cloud around your head, and it will eventually run out.
3) Colour choice is of critical importance when it comes to survival. At OSH a few years ago I saw a company there selling survival kits. They showed aerial photos of a "crash location" with an 8' x 8' tarp erected as a shelter. They showed the same site using tarps of different colours. The only colour that stood out was the most common bright blue. That came as a surprise to me. Now the floor of the cargo area of our aircraft is protected by a folded blue tarp to supplement the tent that rides along on top of it.
4) for food, think of energy density and the kind of energy, protein vs carbohydrate. After spending some time looking at this, I've fallen back to plastic containers of nuts as my emergency rations. High energy density, low carb count to help your body switch over to burning its own fat reserves, and they taste good.
5) One assumes the only means of communication is electronic. What that assumption leaves out is the critical "last mile" portion of the SAR phase. The whistle is a fantastic idea (one of those items that should be in your personal survival kit), but don't forget about a signal mirror. Contrary to popular myth, compact discs don't make very good signal mirrors. Last but not least, carrying flares and "canned smoke" will help attract the attention of that Herc that's flying just a couple of miles away, and will lead rescuers to your exact location in the swamp. Just remember that flares have a shelf life and can become unstable outside that "best before" date, so remember to review and renew your survival kit every year. One of the best sources of flares is actually at marine supply shops.
6) Firestarters... of critical importance, especially for warmth in colder climes. Last year at OSH I found my "survival knife" which has built into its sheath a "blast match" style of metallic fire starter. Seemed like a great idea at relatively low cost. Also, a rope saw is a good idea, but be careful of what you buy as many of them only last a few seconds before their abrasive material disappears. Buy it and try it, and be prepared to buy another one.
7) Attitude! What the OP didn't mention because it came as second nature to him is that preparedness automatically brings with it a positive attitude toward survival. Having thought your way through survival scenarios before they happen means you have a mental plan to follow should an event occur. Many studies have shown that the first few minutes post-crash are where you make the decisions which set the foundation for either survival or quickly perishing. Positive Mental Attitude is THE biggest tool in your survival kit!
As a young Air Cadet I was fortunate to receive survival instruction from a retired RCAF SAR tech. He had trouble walking as a result of injuries sustained while parachuting into a crash site. He broke both ankles but still was able to stabilize four crash survivors. He stayed with them for over 48 hours while waiting for weather to improve enough for a helicopter to get to them. He was able to do that by having used metal from his packsack frame and the crashed aircraft to fabricate leg splints, lashing them to his legs with parachute cord. When this guy talked as a survival instructor, you listened, because he had seen more than his fair share of people who hadn't survived and a few who had, and knew the differences that made the survivors live. I'm so thankful for having had that opportunity to learn from him.
many experts opine if it is not on you, it is not survival gear.
having read many factual accounts by some of the most experienced back country pilots around (and having lost track of my location while hunting a time or two), I have come to agree.
basic survival equipment doesn't take up a lot of space or weight, it's not intended to keep you comfortable, just alive. If you can get to the comfort/camping items in the back of the plane, so much the better.
if you don't like the vest, a small fanny pack pulled around to your side or front will serve the same purpose.
last, rotate your food out occasionally, nothing worse than a 4 year old Powerbar or smashed to powder package of crackers.
A bit of topic drift .. what duffles/bags are you guys using to store this misc stuff? Flashlights, etc.
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