The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) is responsible for aviation and maritime search and rescue (SAR) in Australia and, each year, hundreds of lives are saved by SAR efforts. Many pilots have discovered that the comforting phrase ‘it can’t happen to me’ is far from correct. If you prepare adequately for all eventualities, you will improve your ability to deal with any emergency situation and thus enable AMSA to offer you better assistance.
To help you in this preparation, the following actions are recommended:
- Select the route which gives you short legs (for example, every 15–20 minutes) between the best visual fixes rather than featureless land areas and avoid extensive areas of inhospitable, rugged terrain. Make sure that your maps cover the entire route. Remember that external navigation aids, such as GPS, should be cross-checked using other navigational methods to ensure their accuracy.
- Always wear a watch.
- If your planned flight crosses high country or large water expanses, plan alternative routes that could be used in adverse weather. Remember the problems of rising ground in deteriorating meteorological conditions.
- Make sure you get a forecast. Take special note of the weather, freezing level, significant cloud cover and expected visibility. Relate the forecast to your planned route and the nature of the terrain.
- Always tell someone what you are doing—either by lodging a flight plan or leaving a flight note. If the weather is not suitable, consider using an alternate route or postponing the flight. Discuss the situation with someone else with aviation experience.
- If you are making a day VFR flight, plan to arrive at least 10 minutes before the end of daylight, or earlier if your flight time is more than one hour, or if the terrain or the weather could reduce the light. If you are delayed, make sure that your departure is not too late to meet this requirement.
- Break your flight into route segments, measure distances carefully and use a computer to find time intervals. Do not guess or give just one time interval. Either lodge a flight plan or leave a flight note with a responsible person. Plan a realistic SARTIME and don’t forget to amend it if you are delayed for any reason. Provide a destination telephone number on your flight plan or flight note. Provide mobile phone numbers as well. Make sure you have sufficient fuel for the flight and unforeseen contingencies.
Helping search and rescue
Should you have to make a forced landing, many of the planning hints mentioned previously will help AMSA find you quickly. This is because SAR operations may involve the following:
- the search will be planned according to the forecast and actual weather conditions;
- the search will based on the information you gave in your flight notification form or flight note, plus, (if necessary) the performance capabilities of your aircraft and
- the search pattern is based on track-spacing, which is determined during SAR operation briefings or by the assessed visual range of the day (for example, a search pattern may start 10 nm either side of your planned route).
Other things which you can do to help yourself and AMSA in emergency situations are:
- if practicable, for drawing attention from SAR personnel, remain near your aircraft after evacuating. Otherwise move to an area where SAR agencies will see your visual signals more easily (see also ‘Hints for survival’ on page 5.19) (ERSA EMERG)
- when moving, carry location aids for SAR, such as the following items (ERSA EMERG)
- survival radios/beacons
- heliograph or mirror to signal search aircraft by day
- day/night flares
- strobes or electric torches for use at night (heliographs are available at most army disposal stores or camping stores)
- signal panels and
- sea dye marker
- For making improvised aids, carry matches or a cigarette lighter, a pocket compass, knife and first aid kit, and wear warm clothing in winter (a space blanket is a cheap lightweight alternative to a blanket)
- always carry water, and take extra supplies if you are flying over hot arid areas and
- carry a ‘survival food kit’ of high calorie food items packed in a small waterproof container.
Survival kits may be purchased or homemade. Research the most appropriate contents for your survival kit for the flight you are planning.
Remember: it can happen to you — but it need not be a tragedy
A pilot who does not hold an instrument rating, or who is flying an aircraft not equipped for instrument flight, has no place in adverse weather. However, there are many instances where VFR pilots can find themselves in weather below the VMC minima.
Such occurrences are generally the result of poor planning for safety and all too frequently end in tragedy.
VFR flight in weather which is below VMC is not permitted (CAR 172, AIP ENR 1.2).
Broadcast your intentions
When you become aware that any element of the weather is about to fall below the VMC minima—do not hesitate, turn back immediately. Broadcast your intentions. Do not leave your decision until the weather has already fallen below VMC minima.
Plan your immediate flight path so that you remain well clear of cloud and heavy rain at all times. There have been many occasions when pilots have not intended to fly into cloud but, through inadequate planning, their flight path has taken them into cloud.
Certified and other aerodromes (including many ALAs) are shown on WACs, VTCs and VNCs. Note which aerodromes lie close to your track and which might be suitable for a precautionary landing.
Decide how and when you will determine a critical point en route where you will make a firm decision to either continue, turn back, divert on an alternate route or conduct a precautionary landing on a suitable nearby field if other options cannot be safely executed.
When weather begins to deteriorate, monitor the changes carefully, considering alternate actions and your time limits and critical points for decision making. For example, if you have already planned an alternative route to another suitable aerodrome, decide on a critical point in terms of time or position on track when to take an alternative action, whether to divert or, if no aerodrome is nearby, safely conduct a precautionary landing on a suitable field.