Plane & Pilot
Sunday, June 1, 2008

Getting Out Alive

Survival experts show pilots what to do when the propeller stops spinning

Getting Out AliveFew 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.
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Getting Out Alive
A signal mirror with a sighting hole is a key item for signaling searchers.
Physiology & Survival
The needs of the human body are surprising. According to survival instructor Smith, food is a low priority. “The average human can go 40 days without eating without ill effect,” Smith says. “In a situation where two people of identical build are put in a survival situation where one completely fasts and the other eats sporadically, the one who fasts will exhibit better performance and live longer than the one who eats little bits.”

Survivorman Stroud agrees and adds that, “Of course, after day four or five, your energy will take a dive.” Stroud comments on the fact that the face of hunger changes as your body gets used to a lack of food. “Because you’re in a panic stage, you won’t be hungry. If you don’t focus on or think about the lack of food, your mind will go into an almost Zen-like state. It’s different from normal hunger.”

Getting Out Alive
Experts also recommend that you carry three methods of fire starting: butane lighter, strike-anywhere matches and a magnesium flint stick.
Smith further explains that, “You don’t really need to eat anything because the ratio of carbohydrates to calories burned changes when your body enters a fasting state.” If you can eat, then fat and protein are key. “Fat allows your body to generate warmth, and protein gives you strength,” says Stroud. “Meat is the best source for both. You have to be careful, though, because rabbits have no fat and it’s possible to actually starve your body by only eating rabbits.”

Both instructors point to water as your body’s critical need. “You won’t survive more than maybe three or four days without water,” says Stroud, “and by day three, your mind starts going.” Smith adds, “As you dehydrate, your brain and thinking change. Because our bodies are basically bags of salt water, lack of water causes serious effects long before you actually die.”

Getting Out Alive
A good knife is the most valuable tool in your survival kit. Above, it’s used with a magnesium flint stick to light kindling for a fire.
In the immediate aftermath of a forced landing, there are priorities that must be set. Survival experts agree that establishing a “survival” state of mind is one of the most crucial elements of staying alive.

Stroud says that calming down is the first thing he advises once a person is free of the aircraft. “The first priority is to calm yourself down and then deal with first aid. Too many people panic and it kills them,” he says. “You have to establish a mind-set that you’ll get out of this and stay rational.”

Roger Storey is a survival instructor with the FAA’s Civil Aeromedical Institute. Storey agrees that attitude is key: “One thing is for certain—without a will to survive, there can be no survival. If you don’t have a desire to survive, there’s no equipment made that will help you survive.”

Stroud suggests four simple priorities: “First, assess your situation. Are you in immediate danger? Second, find out what you have with you, in your pockets and in the plane. Third, begin addressing your basic needs of water, shelter and fire. Finally, think about what you have available for signaling for help.”


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