Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Consequences Of Mayday


If you survive a Mayday, everyone worries about what will happen later. Here’s the real story from a poster boy of Maydays.



Don't be afraid to declare an emergency if you feel there's a need. The decision is yours.
It's a notorious section of the North Atlantic known for high waves and vicious winds. It runs 600 miles from the coast of Iceland southeast past the Faroes and Orkney Islands to Northern Scotland.

I've been this way many times before, flying everything from Partenavias, Cheyennes, Conquests and Aerostars to Archers, Mooneys, Centurions and Bonanzas. The weather isn't always inclement, but icing is a common problem, and the wind is nearly always a factor, most often out of the northwest at 20 to 50 knots below 10,000 feet, with stronger winds up high. Better hope you're flying south.

Once, many years ago, when I was leading a group of three new P-68C Partenavias back from Naples, Italy, to Santa Paula, Calif., the sky became threatening and overcast, gradually pushing our undeiced airplanes down to 2,000 feet to minimize the possibility of airframe icing.

To our amazement, we spotted a small sailboat, perhaps a 30-footer, tacking bravely into the wind toward Iceland, rolling and pitching in heavy swells. All three of us descended to 50 feet above the Atlantic and gave the solo sailor an appropriate buzz job and wing wag, as if to acknowledge how much tougher he had it than we did, snug in our warm cockpits with an engine on each wing to protect us from evil. He smiled and waved back, perhaps happy for the temporary company in the middle of a treacherous ocean.

This time, I'm grateful to be tracking the opposite direction with the wind on the tail. I'm flying a new Maule M7-260 mounted on amphibious floats. Flying up the East Coast from Georgia to Bangor, Maine, I had great fun visiting a dozen lakes and even the Hudson River, all calm, flat waterways for the big Maule.

The king-sized floats wouldn't be an advantage landing on today's ocean. As I look down from 9,000 feet, I can see whitecaps everywhere and surf rolling endlessly toward the British Isles. Today wouldn't be a good day to ditch.
I can see whitecaps and surf rolling endlessly toward the British Isles. Today wouldn't be a good day to ditch.
As if on cue, the big 260 hp Lycoming out front staggers and goes rough. The Maule hesitates with the loss of power, and what seemed simple a few minutes ago has now become complex. I try full carb heat, switch back to the aircraft fuel tanks, enrich and lean the mixture, use more or less power or rpm—nothing seems to help. I flip the audio selector to com 2, always set on 121.5 over the ocean, and broadcast, "Any station, this is N3274B. Mayday, Mayday, Mayday. Do you read on 121.5?"



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