A Miraculous Rescue
Most of us don't think much about what happens when an aircraft goes down and the local authorities have to find it and rescue or recover occupants. This is, at best, an uncertain, time-consuming process. At worst, it's a chaotic mess that yields no results.
But as Chief Daniel George once said, sometimes the magic works as it certainly did for the occupants of a Cessna 172 in Idaho last week. Reader Mark Mason sent us the details. At 7 p.m. on Tuesday night, the pilot of the Skyhawk called the Idaho Falls Regional Airport to declare an emergency following an engine failure. The airplane landed successfully on a hard-packed snowmobile trail near the intersection of two roads.
According to Mason's information, a CAP aircraft was in the area on a training mission and was able to make contact with and spot the aircraft on the ground. Eventually, 11 snowmobiles, two ATVs and a SnowCat were sent to rescue the couple. Total elapsed time: an hour and 45 minutes.
Kudos to the CAP and the Bonneville County Sheriff's office for pulling this off so quickly. Although it sounds easy, when agencies are handed a rescue case on a platter—as they were here—interagency coordination and bureaucracy can turn a slam dunk into a goat rope. That didn't happen here and it's worth noting. Good training and disciplined procedures actually work.
The takeaway, however, isn't how well the agencies worked, it's a line in a report from one of the CAP participants: "The two people in the airplane had no survival gear….there is no way they would have been able to walk out and might not have survived the night."
I am unable to confirm if this is true, but whether it is or it isn't, this incident should serve as a reminder for everyone that in an aircraft accident, you can't count on rescue in under two hours. It may be more like two days. So your initial survival depends on what you carry with you in the airplane.
I think pilots tend to err on the unprepared side, thinking that a short flight over the next ridge or 40 miles through the desert is close enough to civilization to obviate the need for survival gear of any kind. So they depart in shirtsleeves. This is a mistake. Although it doesn't happen often, the absence of the most basic survival gear has resulted in fatalities that would have otherwise been survivable.
While I'm not a big believer in packing a 100-pound survival pack, I do think a basic medical kit, signaling equipment and warm clothing during the winter is a must, even in places like the populated northeast. In the mountainous states or in remote areas—the middle of North Dakota comes to mind—a routine flight can turn into a life threatening event in the blink of an eye. What you carry in the airplane can determine whether your live or die.
It's worth some forethought.