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Mayday, mayday, mayday

Be a Boy Scout: Be prepared

Think about it. Your airplane’s flight manual lists the “Emergency Procedures” before the “Normal Procedures” section.

Not a surprise, as it’s important stuff to read up on, visualize, and know. But how often do you actually delve deep into the manual’s emergency procedures to bolster your knowledge? Sure, emergencies may be rare and onboard checklists can quickly help troubleshoot an abnormal situation occurring in flight. But consider this: The airplane manual expands on what to do, well in advance of any emerging trouble. So, coupled with regular dual training in in-flight emergencies, it may be wise to periodically crack open the amplified emergency procedures pages and read up on the various situations and how to handle them. That way, this knowledge always will be top of mind.

So if being prepared is key to successfully managing an abnormal situation from progressing into a true emergency, why do pilots sometimes have trouble converting this preparedness into action—especially in the heat of the moment? Several factors could influence pilots from promptly and effectively dealing with an emergency. For example, they may be reluctant to accept that they’re facing an emergency, they may be fearful and start panicking, or they may believe that it’s important to save the airplane at any cost.

So, how do you overcome this mindset?

First, tap into your training. Thorough initial and recurrent training will have provided you the mental and physical discipline and capacity to sort through an unusual situation or emergency, so you won’t be hesitant to deal with it. Instead you’ll be confident in your ability to take the right corrective action.

Second, don’t let fear develop into a paralyzing panic. Calming yourself and realizing that you do know what to do and that you’ve trained for this moment will help you apply the necessary procedures to successfully conquer the emergency.

Third, don’t try to save the airplane. It’s much more important that you can walk away from the crash landing even if that means the airplane may be a total loss. You’ll have to make deliberate choices that may seem drastic but won’t jeopardize your health. Flying the airplane into the crash under control and having the fuselage absorb the subsequent impact is one such choice.

Just ask Rob Olsen-Drye. He was cruising the blue Alaska summer sky at 1,300 feet msl when he lost elevator authority. “I heard a pop, pulled back on the yoke, and noticed the airplane’s attitude didn’t change. At that point I knew I was going to be landing somewhere.” Luckily. among the tall Alaskan forest there was a narrow road within gliding distance. His skill and proficiency, his airplane’s equipment, and a dose of luck helped him walk away, even though his airplane was totaled. Watch him describe his emergency in ASI’s Real Pilot Story: Lost Elevator video and take away lessons learned that you can also apply in your flying adventures.

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Machteld Smith

Machteld Smith

Senior Editor
Machteld Smith is a senior editor for the Air Safety Institute. She holds a commercial pilot certificate with multiengine, instrument, and seaplane ratings. She loves flying seaplanes and the adventure of landing on rivers and lakes.

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