After the accident: Waiting for rescue

February 9, 2012

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    Perry Brown, a passenger injured in a mock aircraft accident, gets a broken leg splinted by Wade Cebulski. Cebulski and 32 other pilots at the Surratt Winter Survival Clinic received a crash course on survival medicine. The course took place in northwestern Montana this January. Photos by Cameron Lawson.

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    After practicing emergency survival techniques, pilots gather around a bonfire to warm up and swap stories.

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    Iced-over windows of a Beechcraft Musketeer glisten as two volunteers who will be spending the night in the fuselage illuminate it with their flashlights while trying to get settled.

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    Tucked in a mummy sleeping bag and gunny sack, AOPA Director of eMedia Alyssa Miller and Rocky Mountain College student pilot Donne Rossow (foreground) prepare for a cold night in a Beechcraft Musketeer fuselage.

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    Pouring a mixture of three parts fuel and one part oil over gravel or dirt in the bottom of a coffee can and lighting it will create a longer burning fire.

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    A husband and wife, both pilots, work together during the survival clinic to learn life-saving techniques that can be used after an aircraft accident in the backcountry during the winter.

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    Melting snow to boil is one of the best ways to create purified drinking water.

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    As a test of creativity, pilots had to figure out how to cook a pancake over an open flame. Participants tried using everything from rocks to shovels as the cooking platform.

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    Faced with spending the night outside in northern Montana in the middle of winter provided incentive for pilots to quickly build survival shelters.

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    Survival shelters ranged from simple tarp-and-rope constructions to elaborate four-man rustic condominiums.

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    Fresh pine boughs lit on fire can make great smoke signals. Just light a loosely wadded roll of duct tape, stick it under the pile, and watch the smoke stream.

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    Before huddling in their survival shelters for the night, participants built their own fires—testing skills some of them had learned for the first time earlier in the day.

Pilots are trained for emergencies such as forced landings. But what happens after the accident? Could you survive three days in the backcountry during the winter until rescue arrived? Participants in the Surratt Winter Survival Clinic learn how.

Diana Miller Fire Tarp and stick Pack

Will to survive

One week before her high school graduation, Dianna Miller lay beneath a wing of the Cessna 172 that had crashed, crushing her fourth lumbar vertebra, left foot, and right ankle. Her mother, who died on impact, lay on the other side of the aircraft.

Fire and duct tape distress signals

Mixture—idle cut off. Fuel shutoff valve—off. Ignition switch—off. Master switch—off. During a forced landing without engine power, pilots focus on preventing a fire upon landing. Afterward, however, fire becomes a friend.

Tarp and stick digs

It could be days before rescuers arrive at an accident scene, particularly if the aircraft went down in backcountry terrain. Braving the bitter cold, howling wind, and snow for extended periods of time could be impossible without fire and shelter.

Pack as if your life depends on it

A single-engine aircraft crashed in the Montana wilderness, all four onboard were injured, and help won’t arrive for 36 hours: If you were one of those on board, would you have the survival equipment and proper attire to survive?

Alyssa J. Miller

Alyssa J. Miller | AOPA Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor

AOPA Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor Alyssa J. Miller has worked at AOPA since 2004 and is an active flight instructor.