Even the best prepared pilots may someday find themselves caught in an emergency situation that will require quick thinking and excellent skill to save themselves and their passengers. Even though these situations cannot be totally prepared for, there are some things you can do it increase your chances of handling the problem in the best way possible.
There are volumes written on what type of equipment to carry for survival in the even of a forced landing and you should take the time to use these resources to put together a good survival kit before launching into the mountains. At a minimum, however, you should have food and water for each occupant of your airplane to last at least three days, winter clothing for each occupant, a medical kit to stabilize crash injuries, and signaling devices. Your food supply might be as simple as granola bars, but camp supply outlets will have other options. You can pick up water in plastic bottles at a food store. To survive after an off airport landing, you must stay warm and dry, so good winter clothing like parkas and boots will be necessary. Remember that even though it may be summer in the valleys, the mountain tops will still get quite cold at night. A medical kit should contain basic supplies like bandages and pain relievers. If any of your party takes prescription drugs, you should consider carrying a supply of them. Signaling devices can be as simple as a military style signaling mirror (the glass type), which is highly effective, or a standard aircraft-band handheld transceiver.
In most cases, you will be flying at altitudes below those which regulations require oxygen use. However, you should review the symptoms of hypoxia and if you are susceptible to it because of smoking or other conditions, have supplemental oxygen on board and use it.
Deteriorating Weather Enroute
A particularly difficult situation for most pilots to deal with is weather that deteriorates enroute. The urge to continue is very strong, with the thought that it will get better if we just continue a little farther. However, continuing is often the worst thing you can do. When the weather begins to deteriorate, begin to consider what your options are. Your flight planning should have included planning for alternate routes or airports and those should be exercised before getting into poor weather. Divert to an alternate airport or return to your departure airport and reconsider the weather conditions.
If the weather closes off all other possible options, the best thing to do might be to make an off airport landing. Making a landing under contril while you still have enough visibility to select a good site is preferable to continuing into poor weather and crashing into terrain that you can廠 see.
Sudden engine failure should be planned for and practiced during recurrent training with a competent instructor. You幢l need to know the first few things on the checklist by memory since you may be closer to the ground than usual and may not have time to dig out the POH checklists. As you fly along, pick out possible emergency landing sites before any problems arise and form a continuously updated course of action so you are prepared if the engine really does fail.
The exact procedure to follow when engine fails is different for each type of aircraft, so know what yours is. In every situation though, your first duty is to fly the plane! Next, turn immediately toward lower terrain to increase your altitude above the ground and possibly give you a lower (and warmer) site to land. Try to select a site near habitation or a road.
Your landing site may be on a slope. Landing uphill will reduce the ground roll and reduce the chance of falling off an embankment or cliff.
Landing in a forested area presents some difficult choices. In the western U.S., most of the mountain forests are tall evergreen trees, with a few smaller trees like aspen. If you mush into the tops of tall pine or cedar trees, the airplane may stop, caught in the tree tops, then nose over, falling the last 50 to 100 feet nose first. A better choice is to select an aspen grove that will have trees that are much more flexible that will dissipate the airplane廣 energy with out doing as much damage to the cabin area.
Before landing, secure all seat and shoulder belts securely. Open the cabin door and emergency exits to keep them from becoming jammed in the crash. If possible, before touchdown turn off fuel, battery, and ignition switches to reduce the chance of fire.
Survival After Landing
After landing, get everyone out of the aircraft immediately until you are sure there is no chance of fire. Next, make sure that the emergency locator transmitter is turned on. If a handheld radio is part of your survival kit, use it to attempt contact with an FAA facility or an over-flying aircraft. Stay warm and dry, and above all, stay with the airplane! Time and time again, searchers have found people who have survived the crash only to die trying to walk to safety. Carry a good survival kit, plan well, and file a flight plan and your best choice will be to stay with the airplane until searchers arrive.
As with any type of flying, always leave yourself a way out. If things begin to go wrong, take prompt corrective action. Don廠 let yourself get caught flying into a worse situation. If you get into an emergency situation, don廠 hesitate to declare an emergency. Get all the help you can working for you. And finally, save the people and sacrifice the airplane. An airplane can be replaced, but your family and friends can廠.