Emergency Procedures resources

Emergency Procedures

Forced landings

Hints for survival

It is much easier for an aerial search to spot an aircraft than a walking survivor, and this applies whether your aircraft is still in one piece or not.

However, there are two exceptions to this rule:

  • If your aircraft is completely hidden from sight by trees or undergrowth, try to find a clearing where you can set up signals for search aircraft
  • If you are absolutely certain that a town, settlement, road or homestead is within reasonable distance, you could walk out—but if you do, leave notes for a land search party telling them what you are doing and leave a trail which they can follow (see Signal codes, page 5.22).


In a survival situation, salvage your water supply, conserve it as much as possible and augment it if you can, by rain, dew, river water or any other means. For example, dig down in the middle of the sandy bed of a watercourse to locate a soak, or distil salt water by holding a cloth in the steam of boiling water and wringing it into a container.

Water is more important to survival than food — you can comfortably do without food for 48 hours or more, but lack of water causes dehydration and you can lose no more than one-fifth of the body’s fluids (about 11 litres) if you are to survive.

Under desert survival conditions, the preferred method after a forced landing is to wait until you are extremely thirsty before drinking at all, and then to drink at the rate at which sweating is taking place. This method ensures there is little impairment in efficiency and wastes no water. You can also save water by reducing sweating; for example, by keeping in the shade, not exposing the skin to sun or hot winds and resting during the day. If water supplies have to be restricted, do not take salt or eat salty foods.

Do not drink urine under any circumstances.

Minimum water requirements

Mean temperature*
35 °C
32 °C
30 °C
> 27 °C
Litres per 24 hours†

* Mean temperature is usually about 8°C below daily maximum.
† Minimum water requirements per person to maintain the correct balance of body fluid, when resting in the shade

If you decide to walk out you will double your body’s need for water.

In desert or semi-desert areas, walk only at night or in the early morning.

For every 4.5 L of water carried, you should be able to walk 32 km at night in these types of terrain.

Do not drink salt water.

Emergency water still

To supplement supplies, you can carry some basic equipment to setup an emergency water still, which can extract small amounts of water even from soil that looks quite dry.

Foliage (if available) should be placed as illustrated around the container under the plastic sheet. Clear polythene, which ‘wets’ easily is best for the purpose but ordinary clear kitchen polythene sheet (or preferably the thicker 100 μm variety such as is laid down before concrete floors etc. are poured) is satisfactory, particularly if its surface is roughened so that the droplets of water will cling to it more easily and will not be wasted by dropping off before they run down to the point of the cone. It is wise to cut the sheets to size and roughen them with sandpaper before you store them in the aircraft, rather than waiting until you are stranded somewhere in the outback. If a ‘nesting’ set of containers is obtained and the sheets and tubing rolled inside them, a very compact bundle can be made. But see that it is very well wrapped—it may lie around in the luggage compartment for a long time before it is needed.

Emergency water still



If you have a locator beacon, operate it as described in Distress beacons – Emergency activation on page 5.14.

Collect wood, grass, etc and build several signalling fires – preferably in the form of a triangle. Use oil from the engine and tyres to make black smoke. Unless there is ample firewood in the area, do not light fires until you hear or see search aircraft, or until desperate. Be careful to have a fire break between the fires and your aircraft. Try to have the fires downwind from the aircraft.

Conserve your batteries if the aircraft radio is undamaged. After one attempt to contact an airways operations unit, do not use your transmitter until you hear or see search aircraft. Maintain a listening watch, as search aircraft may broadcast information or instructions in the hope that you can receive. Make a note of (and call on) the overlying controlled airspace frequency. Watch for contrails.

Make signals on the ground using the SAR Ground Signals below and in ERSA-EMERG.

Aircraft may fly over your notified route on the first or second night. Light the fires as soon as you hear them and, if possible, keep them burning all night.

If you do not have a heliograph or a mirror, try to remove some bright metal fittings from your aircraft for signalling — any flash seen by searching aircraft will be investigated.

Ground – Air visual signal code

Message Code signal
For use by survivors
1 Require assistance V
2 Require medical assistance X
3 Proceeding in this direction
4 Yes or affirmative Y
5 No or negative N
If in doubt use international symbol SOS
For use in civil emergencies
1 Require fodder FF
2 Require evacuation III
3 Power failure VI


To remain in reasonable condition, you should take as much care as possible to avoid accidents or illness. The following hints may help:

  • keep your body and clothes as clean as possible
  • always wash your hands before eating
  • properly dispose of body wastes, garbage, etc, in trenches
  • if possible, sterilise or boil water and cook food to avoid gastric troubles
  • avoid activities which may lead to injury
  • keep your clothing dry
  • keep your head covered when in the sun
  • do not sleep on the ground — make a raised bed with aircraft seats, wood, dry leaves etc.


Some type of shelter is essential regardless of the type of terrain in which you find yourself.

If your aircraft is not badly damaged, it can be used as a shelter. Otherwise, you should use whatever is available from the aircraft the environment. For example, use trees to rig up a temporary tent as protection against the weather.


You may find that a fire is essential for warmth, cooking, drying clothes, distilling or purifying water. If there is plenty of wood available, this should prove no problem. Otherwise you may have to improvise a stove from a can or other container. Fuel for such a stove could be oil or fat, using a wick, or petrol and a 75 mm layer of fuel impregnated sand.

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New rules come into effect from 2 December 2021 that cover the general operating and flight rules. We are currently updating this guide to reflect the new rules. A new version will be available to download from 2 December.
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