Monday, May 2, 2011

Rescue Me

I have long been an advocate of VFR flight plans (see this post) but a recent Civil Air Patrol presentation to my EAA chapter reinforces the message. Thanks to Bobby Picker for sending me the data to share.

First, as we pilots know, a VFR flight plan has nothing to do with securing government permission to fly a specific route. It used to be in Australia that flying without a flight plan was "NoSAR," for "Search and Rescue." And search and rescue is the purpose. So let's refer to our flying as SAR and NoSAR.

According to the CAP, 60% of crash survivors are injured. The injuries are severe. They say that 81% will die if not located within 24 hours, and 94% will die if not located within 48 hours. Being uninjured doesn't improve your odds much: 50% die within 72 hours.

Of course it won't happen to you, which is what my late friend Blake (thousands of hours, flown everything) probably thought last month. Yes, it can happen to you.

So how long does it take to get rescued? That's where flying SAR comes into play. Here's the data on how long it takes to start the rescue process:

SAR status
time to AFRCC notification time to rescue
15.6 hours if no flight plan filed 62.6 hours
3.9 hours if a VFR flight plan filed 18.2 hours
1.1 hours if an IFR flight plan filed 11.5 hours

Rescuers talk about the Golden Hour: quick rescue prevents death. NoSAR flying leaves you nowhere close. And even the best rescue - from an IFR flight plan - makes some survival preparation look attractive.

The CAP recommends that you should always file IFR, but in my part of the world that's not always an option. Last week I took a pilot friend visiting from back east to Afton, WY (KAFO) in the club Archer. The direct route is already problematical, but the airways route is twice as long. Sorry, not for a fun flight. A big chunk of the route has a 15,000' MSL MEA, pushing the Archer's service ceiling. And I'm not equipped for the approach. Filing IFR is not an option.

But neither is flying NoSAR, and my friend was pleased to see me file a VFR flight plan.

I tell everyone who might listen that opening a VFR flight plan is easy, and that every VFR flight allows for 2+n PIREPs, where n is the length of the flight in hours: one on departure conditions when you open, one on arrival conditions when you close, and one when you do your hourly position report. Many people no longer need to talk to FSS to get weather updates, but that position report could make big difference in your rescue.

in this case LockMart couldn't follow my PIREP on the departure conditions ("continuous light turbulence SFC-070, type is P28A, unlimited visibility"), and it took almost 5 minutes to open the flight plan.

But still I'm glad I did.

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