Thursday, August 9, 2012

Pre-flight check: Can we find you?

On July 23, we got that dreaded call: someone wasn’t where they were supposed to be. A pilot, flying his home-built airplane, didn’t show up. Family members notified authorities and WSDOT Aviation launched an air search.

Working out of the Wenatchee airport, searchers flew grid patterns (based on the route he most likely took), scoured mountainous terrain and chased leads. Sadly - after six and a half days of searching, dried-up leads and exhausted resources – we had to suspend the search.

When a plane goes missing, it’s a race against the clock to try to get as much information as possible. When hours turn into days, the chances of a favorable outcome decrease drastically.

So now we have a sobering reminder to pilots and anyone who cares about someone who flies. No one wants to think they might one day be the subject of a search. However, the old adage –“expect the best and prepare for the worst” might just be the key to saving a pilot’s (and any passengers’) life.

Our goal is no plane ever goes missing. But if the worst happens, here are some things that will make it easier for emergency crews to find the plane faster:

File a flight plan  – a flight plan will tell searchers where you were heading and your intended route. This information can be critical during a search.

Use flight following – talking to air traffic control (ATC) during your flight can pay dividends if you go missing. ATC would have radar information and details about when they last spoke to you, where you were heading, and if you had reported any in-flight troubles.

Make sure you have an operational emergency locator transmitter – the key word here is “operational.” Check it out every so often to make sure it’s working. ELTs  transmit distress signals in emergencies and help search crews find your location. ELTs are required in most U.S. registered civil aircraft.

Consider investing in a new 406 ELT – several years ago, a more advanced model of the ELT (406 mhz) was developed. This version will cost around $550 per unit, but has an 80 percent chance of activating upon impact. And it will tell searchers your tail number and exact location. This could mean the difference between hours and minutes when it comes to searches.