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Survival preparedness

‘Failure to prepare is preparing to fail’

The wisdom of John Wooden, an iconic figure in American basketball, resonates far beyond the hardwood. His well-known adage: “Failure to prepare is preparing to fail,” holds profound significance in general aviation, especially when faced with the daunting prospect of an off-airport forced landing. 
Photography by Chris Rose.
Photography by Chris Rose.

The criticality of readiness underscores the importance of equipping aircraft adequately, adhering to safety practices, and conducting thorough passenger briefings. While we fervently hope such measures never find practical application, survival skills remain indispensable for all aviators.

Survival in the aftermath of aviation accidents frequently hinges on the ability of survivors to exit the wreckage or use onboard lifesaving equipment. The significance of a detailed passenger briefing cannot be overstated, ensuring all occupants are versed in using safety belts, door latches, and fire extinguishers, among other essentials. For aircraft owners, the decision to install advanced safety equipment like airbag-integrated belts and shoulder harnesses is not merely a regulatory compliance matter but a critical investment in safety.

Whether commercially procured or personally assembled, the contents of a survival kit—a multifunction tool, first aid supplies, layers of clothing appropriate for the flight’s climatic conditions, and reliable sources of light and fire—are indispensable. These items, coupled with high-energy snacks and water purification tools, constitute a basic arsenal for survival.

Moreover, filing flight plans and informing someone of your travel itinerary enhances timely search and rescue operations. Modern technologies like ADS-B, ELTs, and satellite tracking devices can significantly reduce risks when flying over remote regions or bodies of water.

In the event of an engine failure, the pilot’s training and presence of mind take center stage. Techniques for maintaining control and selecting an emergency landing site are vital, as is the knowledge of how to secure the aircraft post-landing to prevent further hazards. A positive mind-set, an often under-appreciated asset, serves as a bulwark against negativity and defeatism.

The essence of survival, however, transcends the immediate aftermath of a forced landing. It involves a strategic approach to emergencies, characterized by the STOP protocol: Stop, Think, Observe, and Plan. This systematic approach aids in maintaining composure, prioritizing actions, and effectively using available resources until rescue arrives.

The parallels drawn between John Wooden’s philosophy and aviation safety are striking and instructive. Preparedness, a proactive safety culture, and a resilient mindset are foundational to mitigating flight risks. Through comprehensive safety briefings and an unwavering commitment to preventive measures, aviators and their passengers can confidently navigate the skies, knowing they are equipped to face the unexpected with competence and grace.

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Terrie Mead

Terrie Mead

Aviation Technical Writer
Terrie Mead is an aviation technical writer for the Air Safety Institute. She currently holds a commercial pilot certificate, a CFI with a sport pilot endorsement, a CFII, and she is multiengine rated.

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