What Will You Do? MarkSpencer


Surviving an Emergency



By Mark Spencer


There is nothing quite like flying through the backcountry, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. You’ve got your camping gear all packed, perhaps do a day hike while on the ground, and certainly you’ll enjoy the company of your fellow aviators while on your adventure off the beaten path. Suddenly, the engine stumbles, you do a quick scan and catch your oil pressure dropping as you notice some oil residue begin to build on your windshield. We are all taught in our primary training to be prepared for such an event, and hopefully you’ve already got your emergency landing site in mind, as you should, as you then prepare for an off field landing. We’ve all had this phrase drummed into our minds as well, “Fly the plane, fly the aircraft first!” Statistics are overwhelmingly in favor of the pilot who does not become distracted during an emergency such as this, one who devotes full attention to flying the aircraft to the landing point without producing a stall and subsequent spin, which never ends well for the aircraft or its occupants. My pre-flight to passengers, at least those who would have access to the controls should I ever become incapacitated in flight, includes this phrase, “If you fly it to the ground, chances are good that we’ll walk away.” I give them just the basics, like how not to stall the aircraft as they attempt to fly it to a safe landing spot.

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In the front country, you’ll probably generate a lot of commotion landing on that street, golf course, or open field; folks will likely quickly lend a hand, call 911, etc. In the backcountry, it can be altogether different, and we must plan ahead: what will you do once you’ve executed that unexpected landing, once the aircraft comes to a stop and you realize that you made it? Worse yet, what if there were simply no perfect landing sites, and you couldn’t avoid that last tree? Your fuel tank rupturing and bursting into flames as you barely make it out of your aircraft, only to watch it burn and shrivel like a soda can in the camp fire?

An NTSB report in last month’s APA Newsletter reminded me of this potential situation, and what I hope I would not realize as I escape the aircraft. This NTSB report quoted the pilots as saying “Prior to the repositioning flights, the airplane was loaded with substantial emergency and survival gear. ...In preparation for the trip.” Unfortunately, bailing out of the aircraft with their parachutes, all that emergency gear did not do them any good once on the ground!

I remember reading about another backcountry emergency in the northwest a few years ago. This pilot had to set down in a river, and the aircraft sank so quickly it was all he could do to get out and swim to shore. It was this story that got me started thinking about my own emergency vest.

The concept is simple, have whatever you can actually carry on your body when in the backcountry flying... it may be all you get out with, and may be what helps you survive! I’ve seen very nice vests for sale at various aviation events here in AZ, although I’ve not seen these the last few years, but they are available. Perhaps the most complete one I’ve seen is available from Doug Ritter. It’s not inexpensive, but the time spent to get all these items together might just cost you as much in your own time.

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I like projects like this, and so I decided to put my own emergency vest together. I looked for an appropriate vest at many of the popular sportsman stores, but not only were they expensive, they were not exactly what I wanted. I finally found this HQ ISSUE Men's Concealment Vest at Sportsman’s Guide online. You just cannot beat it at $49. It has plenty of pockets and even a concealed carry pocket for the small pistol you might need in the backcountry.

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Once you get your vest, the real fun starts... what do I really need to survive? The age old order is Shelter, Water, Food, and Recovery, so that’s how I approached my emergency vest. First thing, I need a solar blanket, emergency sleeping bag, or plastic folding tent to get out of the cold and rain as soon as possible. Then a few of those vacuum packed water bottles, an energy bar, or two or three. For recovery, a loud whistle and a signal mirror. If you have a personal location device, it does no good in the aircraft, attach it to your vest!

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Lastly, waterproof matches or a lighter are the absolute minimum items any vest should have.

For medical care I’ve added to my vest a Swat Tourniquet, Trauma Pak with blood stopper, regular bandages, a small self rolled length of duct tape, sun screen, Benadryl, and even a Nasopharyngeal Airway.

Since I had room left, a Life Straw, some parachute chord, and Ibuprofen.

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With a cool head, some gear to keep you out of the elements, some water and food to sustain you, your chances of survival greatly increase! A few basic medical items can potentially make the difference between misery and relative comfort while you wait out your recovery. It is almost always better to stay with the aircraft, so keep this in mind as it is always tempting to hike out, never to be seen again! Sure, if there was a road less than a mile from your touchdown point, you might want to hike to it, but it is amazingly easy to get turned around in a heavily wooded area, which adds another item to the list, a compass or GPS device might just come in handy.

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Hopefully, most of us will never find ourselves in this situation, but for those that do, your backcountry survival vest might just be the best investment you’ve ever made. I now carry it with me even on my backcountry Jeeping trips, why not? It’s got just about everything I need no matter how I get stranded.

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