Section 2. Emergency Services Available to Pilots
6-2-1. Radar Service for VFR Aircraft in
a. Radar equipped ATC facilities can provide
radar assistance and navigation service (vectors) to
VFR aircraft in difficulty when the pilot can talk with
the controller, and the aircraft is within radar
coverage. Pilots should clearly understand that
authorization to proceed in accordance with such
radar navigational assistance does not constitute
authorization for the pilot to violate CFRs. In effect,
assistance is provided on the basis that navigational
guidance information is advisory in nature, and the
responsibility for flying the aircraft safely remains
with the pilot.
b. Experience has shown that many pilots who are
not qualified for instrument flight cannot maintain
control of their aircraft when they encounter clouds
or other reduced visibility conditions. In many cases,
the controller will not know whether flight into
instrument conditions will result from ATC instructions. To avoid possible hazards resulting from being
vectored into IFR conditions, a pilot in difficulty
should keep the controller advised of the current
weather conditions being encountered and the
weather along the course ahead and observe the
1. If a course of action is available which will
permit flight and a safe landing in VFR weather
conditions, noninstrument rated pilots should choose
the VFR condition rather than requesting a vector or
approach that will take them into IFR weather
2. If continued flight in VFR conditions is not
possible, the noninstrument rated pilot should so
advise the controller and indicating the lack of an
instrument rating, declare a distress condition; or
3. If the pilot is instrument rated and current, and
the aircraft is instrument equipped, the pilot should so
indicate by requesting an IFR flight clearance.
Assistance will then be provided on the basis that the
aircraft can operate safely in IFR weather conditions.
6-2-2. Transponder Emergency Operation
a. When a distress or urgency condition is
encountered, the pilot of an aircraft with a coded radar
beacon transponder, who desires to alert a ground
radar facility, should squawk Mode 3/A,
Code 7700/Emergency and Mode C altitude reporting and then immediately establish communications
with the ATC facility.
b. Radar facilities are equipped so that Code 7700
normally triggers an alarm or special indicator at all
control positions. Pilots should understand that they
might not be within a radar coverage area. Therefore,
they should continue squawking Code 7700 and
establish radio communications as soon as possible.
6-2-3. Direction Finding Instrument
a. Direction Finder (DF) equipment has long been
used to locate lost aircraft and to guide aircraft to
areas of good weather or to airports. Now at most DF
equipped airports, DF instrument approaches may be
given to aircraft in a distress or urgency condition.
b. Experience has shown that most emergencies
requiring DF assistance involve pilots with little
flight experience. With this in mind, DF approach
procedures provide maximum flight stability in the
approach by using small turns, and wings‐level
descents. The DF specialist will give the pilot
headings to fly and tell the pilot when to begin
c. DF IAPs are for emergency use only and will not
be used in IFR weather conditions unless the pilot has
declared a distress or urgency condition.
d. To become familiar with the procedures and
other benefits of DF, pilots are urged to request
practice DF guidance and approaches in VFR
weather conditions. DF specialists welcome the
practice and will honor such requests, workload
6-2-4. Intercept and Escort
a. The concept of airborne intercept and escort is
based on the Search and Rescue (SAR) aircraft
establishing visual and/or electronic contact with an
aircraft in difficulty, providing in‐flight assistance,
and escorting it to a safe landing. If bailout, crash
landing or ditching becomes necessary, SAR
operations can be conducted without delay. For most
incidents, particularly those occurring at night and/or
during instrument flight conditions, the availability
of intercept and escort services will depend on the
proximity of SAR units with suitable aircraft on alert
for immediate dispatch. In limited circumstances,
other aircraft flying in the vicinity of an aircraft in
difficulty can provide these services.
b. If specifically requested by a pilot in difficulty
or if a distress condition is declared, SAR
coordinators will take steps to intercept and escort an
aircraft. Steps may be initiated for intercept and
escort if an urgency condition is declared and unusual
circumstances make such action advisable.
c. It is the pilot's prerogative to refuse intercept
and escort services. Escort services will normally be
provided to the nearest adequate airport. Should the
pilot receiving escort services continue onto another
location after reaching a safe airport, or decide not to
divert to the nearest safe airport, the escort aircraft is
not obligated to continue and further escort is
discretionary. The decision will depend on the
circumstances of the individual incident.
6-2-5. Emergency Locator Transmitter
1. ELTs are required for most General Aviation
14 CFR SECTION 91.207.
2. ELTs of various types were developed as a
means of locating downed aircraft. These electronic,
battery operated transmitters operate on one of three
frequencies. These operating frequencies are
121.5 MHz, 243.0 MHz, and the newer 406 MHz.
ELTs operating on 121.5 MHz and 243.0 MHz are
analog devices. The newer 406 MHz ELT is a digital
transmitter that can be encoded with the owner's
contact information or aircraft data. The latest
406 MHz ELT models can also be encoded with the
aircraft's position data which can help SAR forces
locate the aircraft much more quickly after a crash.
The 406 MHz ELTs also transmits a stronger signal
when activated than the older 121.5 MHz ELTs.
(a) The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires 406 MHz ELTs be registered
with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA) as outlined in the ELTs
documentation. The FAA's 406 MHz ELT Technical
Standard Order (TSO) TSO-C126 also requires that
each 406 MHz ELT be registered with NOAA. The
reason is NOAA maintains the owner registration
database for U.S. registered 406 MHz alerting
devices, which includes ELTs. NOAA also operates
the United States' portion of the Cospas-Sarsat
satellite distress alerting system designed to detect
activated ELTs and other distress alerting devices.
(b) In the event that a properly registered
406 MHz ELT activates, the Cospas-Sarsat satellite
system can decode the owner's information and
provide that data to the appropriate search and
rescue (SAR) center. In the United States, NOAA
provides the alert data to the appropriate U.S. Air
Force Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) or U.S.
Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Center. That RCC
can then telephone or contact the owner to verify the
status of the aircraft. If the aircraft is safely secured
in a hangar, a costly ground or airborne search is
avoided. In the case of an inadvertent 406 MHz ELT
activation, the owner can deactivate the 406 MHz
ELT. If the 406 MHz ELT equipped aircraft is being
flown, the RCC can quickly activate a search.
406 MHz ELTs permit the Cospas-Sarsat satellite
system to narrow the search area to a more confined
area compared to that of a 121.5 MHz or 243.0 MHz
ELT. 406 MHz ELTs also include a low-power
121.5 MHz homing transmitter to aid searchers in
finding the aircraft in the terminal search phase.
(c) Each analog ELT emits a distinctive
downward swept audio tone on 121.5 MHz and
(d) If “armed” and when subject to crash-generated forces, ELTs are designed to automatically
activate and continuously emit their respective
signals, analog or digital. The transmitters will
operate continuously for at least 48 hours over a wide
temperature range. A properly installed, maintained,
and functioning ELT can expedite search and rescue
operations and save lives if it survives the crash and
(e) Pilots and their passengers should know
how to activate the aircraft's ELT if manual activation
is required. They should also be able to verify the
aircraft's ELT is functioning and transmitting an alert
after a crash or manual activation.
(f) Because of the large number of 121.5 MHz
ELT false alerts and the lack of a quick means of
verifying the actual status of an activated 121.5 MHz
or 243.0 MHz analog ELT through an owner
registration database, U.S. SAR forces do not
respond as quickly to initial 121.5/243.0 MHz ELT
alerts as the SAR forces do to 406 MHz ELT alerts.
Compared to the almost instantaneous detection of a
406 MHz ELT, SAR forces' normal practice is to wait
for either a confirmation of a 121.5/243.0 MHz alert
by additional satellite passes or through confirmation
of an overdue aircraft or similar notification. In some
cases, this confirmation process can take hours. SAR
forces can initiate a response to 406 MHz alerts in
minutes compared to the potential delay of hours for
a 121.5/243.0 MHz ELT.
3. The Cospas-Sarsat system has announced the
termination of satellite monitoring and reception of
the 121.5 MHz and 243.0 MHz frequencies in 2009.
The Cospas-Sarsat system will continue to monitor
the 406 MHz frequency. What this means for pilots is
that after the termination date, those aircraft with only
121.5 MHz or 243.0 MHz ELT's onboard will have
to depend upon either a nearby Air Traffic Control
facility receiving the alert signal or an overflying
aircraft monitoring 121.5 MHz or 243.0 MHz
detecting the alert. To ensure adequate monitoring of
these frequencies and timely alerts after 2009, all
airborne pilots should periodically monitor these
frequencies to try and detect an activated
121.5/243.0 MHz ELT.
1. ELTs should be tested in accordance with the
manufacturer's instructions, preferably in a shielded
or screened room or specially designed test container
to prevent the broadcast of signals which could
trigger a false alert.
2. When this cannot be done, aircraft operational testing is authorized as follows:
(a) Analog 121.5/243 MHz ELTs should only
be tested during the first 5 minutes after any hour. If
operational tests must be made outside of this period,
they should be coordinated with the nearest FAA
Control Tower or FSS. Tests should be no longer than
three audible sweeps. If the antenna is removable, a
dummy load should be substituted during test
(b) Digital 406 MHz ELTs should only be
tested in accordance with the unit's manufacturer's
(c) Airborne tests are not authorized.
c. False Alarms.
1. Caution should be exercised to prevent the
inadvertent activation of ELTs in the air or while they
are being handled on the ground. Accidental or
unauthorized activation will generate an emergency
signal that cannot be distinguished from the real
thing, leading to expensive and frustrating searches.
A false ELT signal could also interfere with genuine
emergency transmissions and hinder or prevent the
timely location of crash sites. Frequent false alarms
could also result in complacency and decrease the
vigorous reaction that must be attached to all ELT
2. Numerous cases of inadvertent activation
have occurred as a result of aerobatics, hard landings,
movement by ground crews and aircraft maintenance. These false alarms can be minimized by
monitoring 121.5 MHz and/or 243.0 MHz as follows:
(a) In flight when a receiver is available.
(b) Before engine shut down at the end of
(c) When the ELT is handled during installation or maintenance.
(d) When maintenance is being performed
near the ELT.
(e) When a ground crew moves the aircraft.
(f) If an ELT signal is heard, turn off the
aircraft's ELT to determine if it is transmitting. If it
has been activated, maintenance might be required
before the unit is returned to the “ARMED” position.
You should contact the nearest Air Traffic facility and
notify it of the inadvertent activation.
d. Inflight Monitoring and Reporting.
1. Pilots are encouraged to monitor 121.5 MHz
and/or 243.0 MHz while inflight to assist in
identifying possible emergency ELT transmissions.
On receiving a signal, report the following
information to the nearest air traffic facility:
(a) Your position at the time the signal was
(b) Your position at the time the signal was
(c) Your position at maximum signal
(d) Your flight altitudes and frequency on
which the emergency signal was heard: 121.5 MHz or
243.0 MHz. If possible, positions should be given
relative to a navigation aid. If the aircraft has homing
equipment, provide the bearing to the emergency
signal with each reported position.
6-2-6. FAA K-9 Explosives Detection
a. The FAA's Office of Civil Aviation Security
Operations manages the FAA K-9 Explosives
Detection Team Program which was established in
1972. Through a unique agreement with law
enforcement agencies and airport authorities, the
FAA has strategically placed FAA-certified K-9
teams (a team is one handler and one dog) at airports
throughout the country. If a bomb threat is received
while an aircraft is in flight, the aircraft can be
directed to an airport with this capability. The FAA
provides initial and refresher training for all handlers,
provides single purpose explosive detector dogs, and
requires that each team is annually evaluated in five
areas for FAA certification: aircraft (widebody and
narrowbody), vehicles, terminal, freight (cargo), and
luggage. If you desire this service, notify your
company or an FAA air traffic control facility.
b. The following list shows the locations of
current FAA K-9 teams:
FAA Sponsored Explosives Detection
Dog/Handler Team Locations
Buffalo, New York
Charlotte, North Carolina
Kansas City, Missouri
Los Angeles, California
New Orleans, Louisiana
Salt Lake City, Utah
San Francisco, California
San Juan, Puerto Rico
St. Louis, Missouri
c. If due to weather or other considerations an
aircraft with a suspected hidden explosive problem
were to land or intended to land at an airport other
than those listed in b above, it is recommended that
they call the FAA's Washington Operations Center
(telephone 202-267-3333, if appropriate) or have an
air traffic facility with which you can communicate
contact the above center requesting assistance.
6-2-7. Search and Rescue
a. General. SAR is a lifesaving service provided
through the combined efforts of the federal agencies
signatory to the National SAR Plan, and the agencies
responsible for SAR within each state. Operational
resources are provided by the U.S. Coast Guard,
DOD components, the Civil Air Patrol, the Coast
Guard Auxiliary, state, county and local law
enforcement and other public safety agencies, and
private volunteer organizations. Services include
search for missing aircraft, survival aid, rescue, and
emergency medical help for the occupants after an
accident site is located.
b. National Search and Rescue Plan. By federal
interagency agreement, the National Search and
Rescue Plan provides for the effective use of all
available facilities in all types of SAR missions.
These facilities include aircraft, vessels, pararescue
and ground rescue teams, and emergency radio
fixing. Under the plan, the U.S. Coast Guard is
responsible for the coordination of SAR in the
Maritime Region, and the USAF is responsible in the
Inland Region. To carry out these responsibilities, the
Coast Guard and the Air Force have established
Rescue Coordination Centers (RCCs) to direct SAR
activities within their regions. For aircraft emergencies, distress, and urgency, information normally will
be passed to the appropriate RCC through an ARTCC
c. Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Centers. (See TBL 6-2-2.)
Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Centers
Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Centers
New Orleans, LA
San Juan, PR
d. Air Force Rescue Coordination Centers.
(See TBL 6-2-3 and TBL 6-2-4.)
Air Force Rescue Coordination Center
48 Contiguous States
Air Force Rescue Coordination Center
Tyndall AFB, Florida
Air Command Rescue Coordination Center
Alaskan Air Command Rescue
Elmendorf AFB, Alaska
e. Joint Rescue Coordination Center.
(See TBL 6-2-5.)
Joint Rescue Coordination Center
Honolulu Joint Rescue Coordination Center
HQ 14th CG District
f. Emergency and Overdue Aircraft.
1. ARTCCs and FSSs will alert the SAR system
when information is received from any source that an
aircraft is in difficulty, overdue, or missing.
(a) Radar facilities providing radar flight
following or advisories consider the loss of radar and
radios, without service termination notice, to be a
possible emergency. Pilots receiving VFR services
from radar facilities should be aware that SAR may
be initiated under these circumstances.
(b) A filed flight plan is the most timely and
effective indicator that an aircraft is overdue. Flight
plan information is invaluable to SAR forces for
search planning and executing search efforts.
2. Prior to departure on every flight, local or
otherwise, someone at the departure point should be
advised of your destination and route of flight if other
than direct. Search efforts are often wasted and rescue
is often delayed because of pilots who thoughtlessly
takeoff without telling anyone where they are going.
File a flight plan for your safety.
3. According to the National Search and Rescue
Plan, “The life expectancy of an injured survivor
decreases as much as 80 percent during the first
24 hours, while the chances of survival of uninjured
survivors rapidly diminishes after the first 3 days.”
4. An Air Force Review of 325 SAR missions
conducted during a 23-month period revealed that
“Time works against people who experience a
distress but are not on a flight plan, since 36 hours
normally pass before family concern initiates an
g. VFR Search and Rescue Protection.
1. To receive this valuable protection, file a VFR
or DVFR Flight Plan with an FAA FSS. For
maximum protection, file only to the point of first
intended landing, and refile for each leg to final
destination. When a lengthy flight plan is filed, with
several stops en route and an ETE to final destination,
a mishap could occur on any leg, and unless other
information is received, it is probable that no one
would start looking for you until 30 minutes after
your ETA at your final destination.
2. If you land at a location other than the
intended destination, report the landing to the nearest
FAA FSS and advise them of your original
3. If you land en route and are delayed more than
30 minutes, report this information to the nearest FSS
and give them your original destination.
4. If your ETE changes by 30 minutes or more,
report a new ETA to the nearest FSS and give them
your original destination. Remember that if you fail
to respond within one‐half hour after your ETA at
final destination, a search will be started to locate you.
5. It is important that you close your flight plan
IMMEDIATELY AFTER ARRIVAL AT YOUR FINAL
DESTINATION WITH THE FSS DESIGNATED
WHEN YOUR FLIGHT PLAN WAS FILED. The pilot
is responsible for closure of a VFR or DVFR flight
plan; they are not closed automatically. This will
prevent needless search efforts.
6. The rapidity of rescue on land or water will
depend on how accurately your position may be
determined. If a flight plan has been followed and
your position is on course, rescue will be expedited.
h. Survival Equipment.
1. For flight over uninhabited land areas, it is
wise to take and know how to use survival equipment
for the type of climate and terrain.
2. If a forced landing occurs at sea, chances for
survival are governed by the degree of crew
proficiency in emergency procedures and by the
availability and effectiveness of water survival
i. Body Signal Illustrations.
1. If you are forced down and are able to attract
the attention of the pilot of a rescue airplane, the body
signals illustrated on these pages can be used to
transmit messages to the pilot circling over your
2. Stand in the open when you make the signals.
3. Be sure the background, as seen from the air,
is not confusing.
4. Go through the motions slowly and repeat
each signal until you are positive that the pilot
j. Observance of Downed Aircraft.
1. Determine if crash is marked with a yellow
cross; if so, the crash has already been reported and
2. If possible, determine type and number of
aircraft and whether there is evidence of survivors.
3. Fix the position of the crash as accurately as
possible with reference to a navigational aid. If
possible, provide geographic or physical description
of the area to aid ground search parties.
4. Transmit the information to the nearest FAA
or other appropriate radio facility.
5. If circumstances permit, orbit the scene to
guide in other assisting units until their arrival or until
you are relieved by another aircraft.
6. Immediately after landing, make a complete
report to the nearest FAA facility, or Air Force or
Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Center. The report
can be made by a long distance collect telephone call.
Ground-Air Visual Code for Use by Survivors
Ground-Air Visual Code for use by Ground Search Parties
Urgent Medical Assistance
Do Not Land Here
Pick Us Up
Message received and understood (Aircraft)
Message received and NOT understood (Aircraft)