|Photo by Laura Bombier|
Few topics in aviation are as popular as that of survival after a forced landing. Since the tragic September 2007 disappearance of adventurer Steve Fossett, the topic has been the subject of countless hangar flying sessions and pilot’s lounge discussions.
As aviators, we share a unique experience in that we operate over moderately long distances and fly over a wide variety of landforms. Even those of us who routinely fly out of well-populated areas sometimes traverse relatively remote expanses. Still, few pilots adequately plan for sudden exposure to Mother Nature, and a true survival situation could be as close as your next flight.
We spoke with two experts on the subject of survival. Tim Smith is the founder of Jack Mountain Bushcraft & Guide Service in Wolfeboro, N.H. He’s a survival instructor, licensed guide, trapper and hunter with experience in Canada, Alaska, Florida and the upper Northeast. Tim is also a survival consultant for the Man vs. Wild television show.
Les Stroud is the star and survival expert on the Discovery Channel’s popular Survivorman
television series. He has more than 20 years experience as a naturalist, outdoor adventurer and instructor in survival, white-water rafting, sea kayaking, hiking, dog sledding and winter travel. His documentary film, Snowshoes and Solitude,
about the year he and his wife spent living in the remote Boreal Forest of Northern Ontario, has won numerous independent awards.The Reality Of Being Found
The FAA keeps statistics on how long it takes search-and-rescue (SAR) teams to find a downed aircraft. These figures are a good indication of how long a person would need to survive before help arrives. The important thing to remember is that these statistics are only averages. Many pilots have had to wait far longer than the times listed. The data also reflects certain flight characteristics, such as ATC knowing your last-known position with accuracy and the presence of a working ELT in your plane.
Current FAA statistics for length of time from last-known position (LKP) to rescue are: 13 hours for an IFR flight, 37 hours for a VFR flight with a filed flight plan and 42 hours for a flight with no flight plan. The Fossett disappearance shows that even 42 hours could be optimistic given difficult or obscured terrain and lack of a signaling device.
Surviving the forced landing is, of course, the first hurdle. The velocities and altitudes involved in flying an aircraft are such that you may survive, but be at least moderately injured with broken bones, lacerations and/or burns. According to survival experts, your ability to survive with serious injuries starts to diminish after the first 24 hours. Thus, the clock is ticking.
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