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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Smith stresses basics: “There are three things it takes not to die: 1) Keep your body’s core temperature in the very narrow range needed to function properly; 2) Drink enough water; 3) Get enough sleep to remain rational. I can’t overstate the importance of maintaining core body temperature and getting enough rest.” Smith instructs pilots to use the fuselage of the airplane for shelter and to be inventive in their thinking: “Look at everything around you. Use everything there.”

Psychologically, all survival experts agree that fire is your best friend. “Fire is an unbelievable psychological boost in keeping you alive,” says Stroud. Fire is important enough that he suggests carrying three fire-making tools at all times. “It keeps the bogeyman away,” he laughs. Smith adds that, “Boredom can also be a problem, so performing regular tasks helps.”

Getting Out AliveReal Survival Gear
Pilots are especially vulnerable because they don’t plan for survival situations when planning a flying trip. They can go from sitting in a warm cockpit wearing a T-shirt to being in an open desert or frozen mountainside in minutes. What gear should pilots carry?

Expert opinions vary, but certain items top their lists. Smith recommends a basic approach: “The key item for pilots to carry is a top-quality, down sleeping bag. Two are even better. These answer the need for shelter and warmth and, if you include water and start a fire, you can survive for a long time with only that.”

Stroud doesn’t hesitate to start his list off with a quality belt knife. He says, “A good knife or multi-tool with a serrated back is worth its weight in gold.”

Both Stroud and Smith have strong opinions about survival kits. “Most survival kits on the market are designed to make a profit, not save your life,” says Stroud. Smith adds, “Most survival kits are garbage. Make your own.”

“My survival kit starts in my pocket,” explains Stroud. “If you survive the crash, then what you have in your pockets will stay with you.” Recommended kit items include a signaling mirror and whistle, compass, multiple fire-starting tools and, most importantly, a good first-aid kit. “First aid will be the first thing you attend to after the forced landing,” says Stroud.

“Those ‘space blankets’ are not blankets,” adds Stroud. Both men explain that these silvery Mylar sheets are useful for reflecting radiant energy or signaling by reflecting light. “But Mylar isn’t a blanket,” says Smith.


Making Your Own Survival Kit

Though our survival experts differ in their opinions of what to carry, they agree that certain items are essential. Based on their recommendations, we’ve listed some key starter items for a basic pilot’s survival kit:

• First-aid kit containing Steri-Strips, duct tape, water-purification tablets and bandages to handle lacerations and burns
• Three fire-starting tools: butane lighter, magnesium flint stick and strike-anywhere waterproof matches
• One or two high-quality down sleeping bags (minus-20 degrees F temperature rating or better)
• Professional-quality belt knife and/or multi-tool with serrated back edge
• Folding compass
• Orange trash bags for shelter, raincoat, signaling, waste and other uses
• Glass signal mirror with sighting hole
• Rescue whistle
• Mylar emergency blanket (for reflecting heat and signaling)
• Extra water
• Two to three “energy/power” bars for food

Survivorman Les Stroud suggests putting your basic kit in an empty coffee tin that can later serve other purposes, including boiling water and cooking. He instructs pilots to use such things as the fuel in the plane’s tanks, the battery and, for older aircraft, the fabric used to cover airframe surfaces.

Stroud and Smith also recommend a personal locator beacon (EPIRB) or personal satellite messenger devices, such as the new SPOT, which is endorsed by several pilots.







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