Plane & Pilot
Wednesday, June 1, 2005

The Stigma Of Mayday

As reluctant as we all can be to declare an emergency, there are times when nothing else makes sense

Face it, no one likes to admit mistakes. Probably because of the Superman syndrome, pilots are especially reluctant to acknowledge errors to authority figures. Aviators are even more reticent to confess to dangerous mistakes if they have passengers on board.
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Communicate on any frequency where there’s a helpful ear—center, flight service, tower or even a local unicom. If you have no other choices, try 121.5 MHz. In the hinterlands at relatively low altitudes, you may reach an airliner, corporate jet or some other aircraft whose crew can relay for you.

Once you’ve established contact with someone, confess and tell them everything they need to know. Don’t hold back any details about your situation, no matter how embarrassing they may be.

Don’t be reluctant to comply with whatever instructions you’re given, but evaluate any advice in the specific context of your situation. While this may be your first emergency, the controller may have worked many of them, but that doesn’t mean he automatically has all the answers. He’s there to help, as long as his advice makes sense.

The final C stands for conserve, and that obviously refers to stretching your fuel supply to the max. Someone on the ground may be able to help you, but it could take time, and you may need to optimize your endurance to take advantage of any help that’s available.

If there’s a universal message, it’s this: Don’t be afraid to declare an emergency, and do it sooner rather than later. The worser you allow the situation to become before asking for help, the less likely it will be that anyone can offer any help.


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