Last month I spoke of the pre-planning that a pilot does before each flight that is crucial to aviation safety. Each flight, as we are aware, has the potential to have a safe, as well as an unsafe outcome. Once a year I write an article on passenger safety. Most passengers go along for the ride and expect the flight to be uneventful. The majority of the time that is a safe supposition. Seldom, thankfully, do airplanes cease to fly before reaching their destination. It is the remote "once in a great while," when failures do occur, that I will discuss in this article.
Every so often an airplane has to make an unplanned landing in a remote area. Some land on dry land and some in the water. It is those two situations that I am going to address specifically for the passengers that may be on the flight.
Passengers that frequently fly around Southeast Alaska have taken note of the fact that there is a lot of water out there, and few beaches that are suitable for an airplane to land on in the event of an emergency.
People are creatures of habit. They hop on an airplane, some quite regularly, without a second thought about their own safety. After all, how many drivers ever look at their car to see if it has a flat tire or oil running out underneath before driving to the grocery store. Along that vein I don't expect a passenger to analyze through appearances whether an airplane is fit to fly. Hopefully if a passenger sees a plane has an obvious problem such as a low tire, oil flowing out from under the cowling, and so forth, that the responsible passenger would bring the problem to the pilots' attention.
Another consideration would be the choice of clothes and personal safety items. What do you bring that could be used in the event of an emergency landing? Could you keep warm, signal for help, make a shelter, keep your energy level up and remain calm if you felt that you were stranded. Local air carriers usually provide a supply of equipment and rations located in the airplane to be used in the event of an emergency. Do you know where they are located and would you be able to get to them in an emergency? The answer to both items is, perhaps not. The airplane might sink in water or perhaps burn up on land taking with it the emergency supplies.
Keep on your person a minimum amount of equipment that you would need to survive. Wear enough clothing, even in summer to keep you warm outdoors at night. Carry a signal light or mirror.
One last thing, if you see something that you feel uncomfortable with ask your pilot about it. The pilot will be happy to answer any questions that you may have regarding the safety of the flight. Pilots have your safety in mind and intend to get you from departure to destination with the least amount of difficulty. Sometimes situations arise that are beyond the pilot's control. It is in those situations that you need to be prepared as a passenger.
There is much more to this issue than can be covered in a newspaper article. I frequently hold passenger safety meetings for groups on this valuable subject upon request. If any readers wish to hold a passenger safety meeting, I can be reached at 586-7532 for an appointment.
Patricia Mattison is the safety program manager at Juneau Flight Standards.