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ASI news: Never give upASI news: Never give up

Prepare for emergencies and learn from one pilot’s journey across the Atlantic

There’s no way to be totally ready for every emergency, but there are ways to  significantly improve your odds of surviving one. One key is preparation.
Preflight March/April 2021
Preflight March/April 2021

During your flight training, you and your instructor will walk through and practice a variety of emergency scenarios—hopefully to the point where you feel ready to handle one on your own. Often, a checklist, such as the ones you use for preflight or engine start, will help guide you through what to do.

There isn’t a checklist for every abnormal situation, though, and many emergencies can be preventable because they’re set in motion by pilot error. Too often, pilots fly into avoidable scenarios like in-flight icing, thunderstorms, fuel exhaustion, and VFR into IMC—sometimes leading to an accident.

Avoiding those flight conditions will be up to your aeronautical decision making. You can’t control the weather, but you can choose your route or stay on the ground. You can’t significantly modify your fuel burn in unexpected headwinds, but you can control when and where you land to refuel. Practice good ADM: You’ll be less likely to have an emergency and more able to cope with one.

Here are some key points to consider before each flight to help you stay safe:

  • Brief every flight to cover emergency contingencies and critical checklist items. Commit immediate procedures to memory—and practice them!
  • Route selection: Are you flying over water, high terrain, or a forest? What’s the weather like on the ground along your route? Have a plan for an unscheduled off-airport landing.
  • Equip for redundancy. Carry backup radios/GPS equipment, and batteries.
  • Pack a survival kit appropriate to the flight and number of people on board.
  • File and activate a flight plan to help with potential search and rescue operations.
  • Never guess with fuel— always know how much you have available and plan to land with a reserve.

Other critical factors in surviving an emergency are attitude and a commitment to never give up. In the summer of 1994, Kerry McCauley, an international ferry pilot, now with more than 30 years of experience, was flying over the North Atlantic to Paris in a new Bonanza F33 when he discovered an issue with his auxiliary fuel tank. The problem? No ram air—the fuel wasn’t moving. The solution? Pressurize the tank via lung power. For eight straight hours McCauley was alone, over the ocean, in a single-engine airplane, with only his will keeping him aloft and alive.

McCauley’s commitment to his own survival kept him alive when he could have given up. His grit and determination are good lessons to all pilots that even in a seemingly hopeless situation—like flying solo over the Atlantic—there can be a positive resolution.

[email protected]

Alyssa J. Miller

Alicia Herron

ASI Aviation Writer
Aviation writer Alicia Herron joined the AOPA Air Safety Institute in 2018. She is a multiengine-rated commercial pilot with advanced ground and instrument flight instructor certificates. Alicia is based in Los Angeles and enjoys tailwheel flying best.

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