The Search and Rescue (SAR) service in the U.S. and its area of jurisdiction is organized in accordance with the Standards and Recommended Practices of ICAO Annex 12 by the Federal Aviation Administration with the collaboration of the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Air Force. The Coast Guard and the Air Force are the responsible SAR authorities and have the responsibility for making the necessary facilities available. Postal and telegraphic addresses for the Federal Aviation Administration are given in . The appropriate addresses for Coast Guard and Air Force offices are:
Inland SAR Coordinator
Tyndall AFB, FL
Telegraphic Address: None.
Commercial: 850-283-5955, or
Defense Switching Network: 523-5955.
United States Coast Guard
Search and Rescue Division (GOSR/73)
400 7th Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20590
Telegraphic Address: None.
Telex: 89 2427
- The Search and Rescue (SAR) service in the U.S. and its area of jurisdiction is organized in accordance with the Standards and Recommended Practices of ICAO Annex 12 by the Federal Aviation Administration with the collaboration of the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Air Force. The Coast Guard and the Air Force are the responsible SAR authorities and have the responsibility for making the necessary facilities available. Postal and telegraphic addresses for the Federal Aviation Administration are given in . The appropriate addresses for Coast Guard and Air Force offices are:
Types of Service
- Details of the Rescue Coordination Centers (RCCs) and related rescue units are given in this section. In addition, various elements of state and local police organizations are available for search and rescue missions when required. The aeronautical, maritime and public telecommunication services are available to the search and rescue organizations.
- Aircraft, both land and amphibious based, are used, as well as land and seagoing vessels, when required, and carry survival equipment. Airborne survival equipment, capable of being dropped, consists of inflatable rubber dinghies equipped with medical supplies, emergency rations and survival radio equipment. Aircraft and marine craft are equipped to communicate on 121.5, 123.1, 243.0, 500 kHz, 2182 kHz, and 8364 kHz. Ground rescue teams are equipped to communicate on 121.5 MHz, 500 kHz, and 8364 kHz. SAR aircraft and marine craft are equipped with direction finding equipment and radar.
Bilateral agreements exist between the U.S. and the following neighboring States of the NAM region: Canada and Mexico.
- There are two agreements with Canada. One provides for public aircraft of either country which are engaged in air search and rescue operations to enter or leave either country without being subjected to immigration or customs formalities normally required. The other permits vessels and wrecking appliances of either country to render aid and assistance on specified border waters and on the shores and in the waters of the other country along the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts within a distance of 30 miles from the international boundary on those coasts. A post operations report is required.
- The agreement with Mexico applies to territorial waters and shores of each country within 200 miles of the border on the Gulf Coast and within 270 miles of the border on the Pacific Coast. It permits the vessels and aircraft of either country to proceed to the assistance of a distressed vessel or aircraft of their own registry upon notification of entry and of departure of the applicable waters and shores.
- In situations not falling under the above agreements, requests from States to participate in a SAR operation within the U.S. for aircraft of their own registry may be addressed to the nearest RCC. The RCC would reply, and issue appropriate instructions.
- Bilateral agreements exist between the U.S. and the following neighboring States of the NAM region: Canada and Mexico.
General Conditions of Availability
- The SAR service and facilities in the U.S. are available to the neighboring States within the NAM, NAT, CAR, PAC Regions upon request to the appropriate RCC at all times when they are not engaged in search and rescue activity in their home territory. All facilities are specialized in SAR techniques and functions.
Applicable ICAO Documents
Search and Rescue
Aircraft Accident Inquiry
Regional Supplementary Procedures for Alerting and Search and Rescue Services applicable to the NAM, NAT, CAR, PAC Regions.
Differences from ICAO Standards, Recommended Practices and Procedures
- Differences from ICAO Standards, Recommended Practices and Procedures are listed in GEN 1.7.
Emergency Locator Transmitters
ELTs are required for most General Aviation airplanes.
14 CFR SECTION 91.207.
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.
- 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 406 MHz ELTs and other distress alerting devices.
- As of 2009, the Cospas-Sarsat system terminated monitoring and reception of the 121.5 MHz and 243.0 MHz frequencies. What this means for pilots is that those aircraft with only 121.5 MHz or 243.0 MHz ELTs 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 and advising ATC.
- 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.
- Each analog ELT emits a distinctive downward swept audio tone on 121.5 MHz and 243.0 MHz.
- 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 is activated.
- 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.
- 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 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. Therefore, due to the obvious advantages of 406 MHz beacons and the significant disadvantages to the older 121.5/243.0 MHz beacons, and considering that the International Cospas-Sarsat Program stopped the monitoring of 121.5/243.0 MHz by satellites on February 1, 2009, all aircraft owners/operators are highly encouraged by both NOAA and the FAA to consider making the switch to a digital 406 MHz ELT beacon. Further, for non-aircraft owner pilots, check the ELT installed in the aircraft you are flying, and as appropriate, obtain a personal locator beacon transmitting on 406 MHz.
- ELTs are required for most General Aviation airplanes.
- 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.
When this cannot be done, aircraft operational testing is authorized as follows:
- 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. Tests should be no longer than three audible sweeps. If the antenna is removable, a dummy load should be substituted during test procedures.
- Digital 406 MHz ELTs should only be tested in accordance with the unit's manufacturer's instructions.
- Airborne tests are not authorized.
- 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 signals.
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:
- In flight when a receiver is available.
- Before engine shut down at the end of each flight.
- When the ELT is handled during installation or maintenance.
- When maintenance is being performed near the ELT.
- When a ground crew moves the aircraft.
- 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.
Inflight Monitoring and Reporting
Pilots are encouraged to monitor 121.5 MHz and/or 243.0 MHz while in flight to assist in identifying possible emergency ELT transmissions. On receiving a signal, report the following information to the nearest air traffic facility:
- Your position at the time the signal was first heard.
- Your position at the time the signal was last heard.
- Your position at maximum signal strength.
- 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.
- Pilots are encouraged to monitor 121.5 MHz and/or 243.0 MHz while in flight to assist in identifying possible emergency ELT transmissions. On receiving a signal, report the following information to the nearest air traffic facility:
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 U.S. Air Force is responsible in the Inland Region. To carry out these responsibilities, the Coast Guard and the Air Force have established 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 air route traffic control center (ARTCC) or flight service station (FSS).
Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Centers
Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Centers
New Orleans, LA
San Juan, PR
- Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Centers are served by major radio stations which guard 2182 kHz (VOICE). In addition, Coast Guard units along the seacoasts of the U.S. and shores of the Great Lakes guard 2182 kHz. The call “COAST GUARD” will alert all Coast Guard Radio Stations within range. 2182 kHz is also guarded by most commercial coast stations and some ships and boats.
Air Force Rescue Coordination Centers
Air Force Rescue Coordination Center
Tyndall AFB, Florida
Alaskan Air Command Rescue Coordination Center
Elemendorf AFB, Alaska
907-428-7230 or 800-420-7230
Joint Rescue Coordination Center Hawaii
Honolulu Joint Rescue Coordination Center
HQ 14th CG District Honolulu
Procedures and Signals for Aircraft in Emergency
Search and Rescue
- Search and Rescue is a life-saving 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, Department of Defense 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.
Emergency and Overdue Aircraft
- ARTCCs and FSSs will alert the SAR system when information is received from any source that an aircraft is in difficulty, overdue, or missing.
- 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.
- 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. Prior to departure on every flight, local or otherwise, someone at the departure point should be advised of your destination and the route of flight if other than direct. Search efforts are often wasted and rescue is often delayed because of pilots who thoughtlessly take off without telling anyone where they are going. File a flight plan for your safety.
- 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.”
- 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 (alert).”
VFR Search and Rescue Protection
- 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.
- 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 destination.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- For flight over uninhabited land areas, it is wise to take suitable survival equipment depending on type of climate and terrain.
- If forced landing occurs at sea, chances for survival are governed by degree of crew proficiency in emergency procedures and by effectiveness of water survival equipment.
Body Signal Illustrations
- If you are forced down and are able to attract the attention of the pilot of a rescue airplane, the body signals illustrated on the following pages can be used to transmit messages to the pilot circling over your location.
- Stand in the open when you make the signals.
- Be sure the background, as seen from the air, is not confusing.
- Go through the motions slowly and repeat each signal until you are positive that the pilot understands you.
Observance of a Downed Aircraft
- Determine if the crash is marked with yellow cross; if so, the crash has already been reported and identified.
- Determine, if possible, the type and number of the aircraft and whether there is evidence of survivors.
- Fix, as accurately as possible, the exact location of the crash.
- If circumstances permit, orbit the scene to guide in other assisting units or until relieved by another aircraft.
- Transmit information to the nearest FAA or other appropriate radio facility.
Immediately after landing, make a complete report to nearest FAA, Air Force, or Coast Guard installation. The report may be made by long distance collect telephone.
FIG GEN 3.6-2
Ground-Air Visual Code for use by Ground Search Parties
FIG GEN 3.6-3
Urgent Medical Assistance
FIG GEN 3.6-4
FIG GEN 3.6-5
FIG GEN 3.6-6
FIG GEN 3.6-7
FIG GEN 3.6-8
FIG GEN 3.6-9
Do Not Land Here
FIG GEN 3.6-10
FIG GEN 3.6-11
FIG GEN 3.6-12
FIG GEN 3.6-13
Pick Us Up
FIG GEN 3.6-14
FIG GEN 3.6-15
FIG GEN 3.6-16
Message received and understood (Aircraft)
- Search and Rescue
Pilot Responsibility and Authority
The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to the operation of that aircraft. In an emergency requiring immediate action, the pilot in command may deviate from any rule in Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Part 91, Subpart A, General, and Subpart B, Flight Rules, to the extent required to meet that emergency (14 CFR Section 91.3(b)).
In the event of a pilot incapacitation, an Emergency Autoland system or an emergency descent system may assume operation of the aircraft and deviate to meet that emergency.
- If the emergency authority of 14 CFR Section 91.3(b) is used to deviate from the provisions of an air traffic control clearance, the pilot in command must notify ATC as soon as possible and obtain an amended clearance (14 CFR Section 91.123(c)).
- Unless deviation is necessary under the emergency authority of 14 CFR Section 91.3, pilots of IFR flights experiencing two-way radio communications failure are expected to adhere to the procedures prescribed under “IFR operations; two-way radio communications failure.” (14 CFR Section 91.185)
- The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to the operation of that aircraft. In an emergency requiring immediate action, the pilot in command may deviate from any rule in Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Part 91, Subpart A, General, and Subpart B, Flight Rules, to the extent required to meet that emergency (14 CFR Section 91.3(b)).
Distress and Urgency Communications
- A pilot who encounters a distress or urgency condition can obtain assistance simply by contacting the air traffic facility or other agency in whose area of responsibility the aircraft is operating, stating the nature of the difficulty, pilot's intentions, and assistance desired. Distress and urgency communications procedures prescribed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), however, have decided advantages over the informal procedure described above.
- Distress and urgency communications procedures discussed in the following paragraphs relate to the use of air-ground voice communications.
- The initial communication, and if considered necessary, any subsequent transmissions by an aircraft in distress should begin with the signal MAYDAY, preferably repeated three times. The signal PAN-PAN should be used in the same manner for an urgency condition.
- Distress communications have absolute priority over all other communications, and the word MAYDAY commands radio silence on the frequency in use. Urgency communications have priority over all other communications except distress, and the word PAN-PAN warns other stations not to interfere with urgency transmissions.
- Normally, the station addressed will be the air traffic facility or other agency providing air traffic services on the frequency in use at the time. If the pilot is not communicating and receiving services, the station to be called will normally be the air traffic facility or other agency in whose area of responsibility the aircraft is operating on the appropriate assigned frequency. If the station addressed does not respond, or if time or the situation dictates, the distress or urgency message may be broadcast, or a collect call may be used, addressing “Any Station (Tower) (Radio) (Radar).”
- The station addressed should immediately acknowledge a distress or urgency message, provide assistance, coordinate and direct the activities of assisting facilities, and alert the appropriate search and rescue coordinator if warranted. Responsibility will be transferred to another station only if better handling will result.
- All other stations, aircraft and ground, will continue to listen until it is evident that assistance is being provided. If any station becomes aware that the station being called either has not received a distress or urgency message, or cannot communicate with the aircraft in difficulty, it will attempt to contact the aircraft and provide assistance.
Although the frequency in use or other frequencies assigned by ATC are preferable, the following emergency frequencies can be used for distress or urgency communications, if necessary or desirable:
- 121.5 MHz and 243.0 MHz - Both have a range generally limited to line of sight. 121.5 MHz is guarded by direction finding stations and some military and civil aircraft. 243.0 MHz is guarded by military aircraft. Both 121.5 MHz and 243.0 MHz are guarded by military towers, most civil towers, and radar facilities. Normally ARTCC emergency frequency capability does not extend to radar coverage limits. If an ARTCC does not respond when called on 121.5 MHz or 243.0 MHz, call the nearest tower.
Emergency Condition - Request Assistance Immediately
- Pilots do not hesitate to declare an emergency when they are faced with distress conditions such as fire, mechanical failure, or structural damage. However, some are reluctant to report an urgency condition when they encounter situations which may not be immediately perilous, but are potentially catastrophic. An aircraft is in at least an urgency condition the moment the pilot becomes doubtful about position, fuel endurance, weather, or any other condition that could adversely affect flight safety. This is the time to ask for help, not after the situation has developed into a distress condition.
- Pilots who become apprehensive for their safety for any reason should request assistance immediately. Ready and willing help is available in the form of radio, radar, direction finding stations and other aircraft. Delay has caused accidents and cost lives. Safety is not a luxury. Take action.
Obtaining Emergency Assistance
A pilot in any distress or urgency condition should immediately take the following action, not necessarily in the order listed, to obtain assistance:
- Climb, if possible, for improved communications and better radar and direction finding detection. However, it must be understood that unauthorized climb or descent under IFR conditions within CONTROLLED AIRSPACE is prohibited, except as permitted by 14 CFR Section 91.3(b).
If equipped with a radar beacon transponder (civil) or IFF/SIF (military):
- Continue squawking assigned Mode A/3 discrete code/VFR code and Mode C altitude encoding when in radio contact with an air traffic facility or other agency providing air traffic services, unless instructed to do otherwise.
- If unable to immediately establish communications with an air traffic facility/agency, squawk Mode A/3, Code 7700/Emergency and Mode C.
Transmit a distress or urgency message consisting of as many as necessary of the following elements, preferably in the order listed:
- If distress, MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY; if urgency, PAN-PAN, PAN-PAN, PAN-PAN.
- Name of station addressed.
- Aircraft identification and type.
- Nature of distress or urgency.
- Pilots intentions and request.
- Present position, and heading; or if lost, last known position, time, and heading since that position.
- Altitude or flight level.
- Fuel remaining in minutes.
- Number of people on board.
- Any other useful information.
- After establishing radio contact, comply with advice and instructions received. Cooperate. Do not hesitate to ask questions or clarify instructions when you do not understand or if you cannot comply with clearances. Assist the ground station to control communications on the frequency in use. Silence interfering radio stations. Do not change frequency or change to another ground station unless absolutely necessary. If you do, advise the ground station of the new frequency and station name prior to the change, transmitting in the blind if necessary. If two-way communications cannot be established on the frequency, return immediately to the frequency or station where two-way communications last existed.
When in a distress condition with bailout, crash landing, or ditching imminent, take the following additional actions to assist search and rescue units:
Time and circumstances permitting, transmit as many as necessary of the message elements in subparagraph 18.104.22.168 and any of the following you think might be helpful:
- ELT status.
- Visible landmarks.
- Aircraft color.
- Number of persons on board.
- Emergency equipment on board.
- Actuate your ELT if the installation permits.
- For bailout, and for crash landing or ditching if risk of fire is not a consideration, set your radio for continuous transmission.
- If it becomes necessary to ditch, make every effort to ditch near a surface vessel. If time permits, an FAA facility should be able to get the position of the nearest commercial or Coast Guard vessel from a Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Center.
- Time and circumstances permitting, transmit as many as necessary of the message elements in subparagraph 22.214.171.124 and any of the following you think might be helpful:
- After a crash landing unless you have good reason to believe that you will not be located by search aircraft or ground teams, it is best to remain with your aircraft and prepare means for signalling search aircraft.
- A pilot in any distress or urgency condition should immediately take the following action, not necessarily in the order listed, to obtain assistance:
Radar Service for VFR Aircraft in Difficulty
- Radar equipped air traffic control 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 Federal Aviation Regulations. 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.
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 his/her instructions. To avoid possible hazards resulting from being vectored into IFR conditions, a pilot in difficulty should keep the controller advised of the weather conditions in which he/she is operating and the weather along the course ahead, and observe the following:
- 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 conditions; or
- 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.
- 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.
Intercept and Escort
- The concept of airborne intercept and escort is based on the SAR aircraft establishing visual and/or electronic contact with an aircraft in difficulty, providing inflight 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.
- 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.
- 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 on to 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.
- Visual Emergency Signals
- In order to select a proper ditching course for an aircraft, a basic knowledge of sea evaluation and other factors involved is required. Selection of the ditching heading may well determine the difference between survival and disaster. (See FIG GEN 3.6-18, FIG GEN 3.6-19, FIG GEN 3.6-20, and FIG GEN 3.6-21).
Common Oceanographic Terminology:
- Sea. The condition of the surface that is the result of both waves and swells.
- Wave (or Chop). The condition of the surface caused by local winds.
- Swell. The condition of the surface which has been caused by a distant disturbance.
- Swell Face. The side of the swell toward the observer. The backside is the side away from the observer. These definitions apply regardless of the direction of swell movement.
- Primary Swell. The swell system having the greatest height from trough to crest.
- Secondary Swells. Those swell systems of less height than the primary swell.
- Fetch. The distance the waves have been driven by a wind blowing in a constant direction, without obstruction.
- Swell Period. The time interval between the passage of two successive crests at the same spot in the water, measured in seconds.
- Swell Velocity. The velocity with which the swell advances with relation to a fixed reference point, measured in knots. There is little movement of water in the horizontal direction. Swells move primarily in a vertical motion, similar to the motion observed when shaking out a carpet.
- Swell Direction. The direction from which a swell is moving. This direction is not necessarily the result of the wind present at the scene. The swell encountered may be moving into or across the local wind. Swells, once set in motion, tend to maintain their original direction for as long as they continue in deep water, regardless of changes in wind direction.
- Swell Height. The height between crest and trough, measured in feet. The vast majority of ocean swells are lower than 12 to 15 feet, and swells over 25 feet are not common at any spot on the oceans. Successive swells may differ considerably in height.
It is extremely dangerous to land into the wind without regard to sea conditions. The swell system, or systems, must be taken into consideration.
FIG GEN 3.6-22
- In ditching parallel to the swell, it makes little difference whether touchdown is on top of the crest or in the trough. It is preferable, if possible, to land on the top or back side of the swell. After determining which heading (and its reciprocal) will parallel the swell, select the heading with the most into the wind component.
- If only one swell system exists, the problem is relatively simple - even with a high, fast system. Unfortunately, most cases involve two or more systems running in different directions. With many systems present, the sea presents a confused appearance. One of the most difficult situations occurs when two swell systems are at right angles. For example, if one system is 8 feet high, and the other 3 feet, a landing parallel to the primary system, and down swell on the secondary system is indicated. If both systems are of equal height, a compromise may be advisable - selecting an intermediate heading at 45 degrees down swell to both systems. When landing down a secondary swell, attempt to touch down on the back side, not on the face of the swell. Remember one axiom - AVOID THE FACE OF A SWELL.
- If the swell system is formidable, it is considered advisable, in landplanes, to accept more crosswind in order to avoid landing directly into the swell.
- The secondary swell system is often from the same direction as the wind. Here, the landing may be made parallel to the primary system, with the wind and secondary system at an angle. There is a choice of two headings paralleling the primary system. One heading is downwind and down the secondary swell; and the other is into the wind and into the secondary swell. The choice of heading will depend on the velocity of the wind versus the velocity and height of the secondary swell.
- It is extremely dangerous to land into the wind without regard to sea conditions. The swell system, or systems, must be taken into consideration.
- The simplest method of estimating the wind direction and velocity is to examine the wind streaks on the water. These appear as long streaks up and down wind. Some persons may have difficulty determining wind direction after seeing the streaks in the water. Whitecaps fall forward with the wind but are overrun by the waves thus producing the illusion that the foam is sliding backward. Knowing this, and by observing the direction of the streaks, the wind direction is easily determined. Wind velocity can be accurately estimated by noting the appearance of the whitecaps, foam and wind streaks.
A successful aircraft ditching is dependent on three primary factors. In order of importance they are:
- Sea conditions and wind.
- Type of aircraft.
- Skill and technique of pilot.
- The behavior of the aircraft on making contact with the water will vary within wide limits according to the state of the sea. If landed parallel to a single swell system, the behavior of the aircraft may approximate that to be expected on a smooth sea. If landed into a heavy swell or into a confused sea, the deceleration forces may be extremely great - resulting in breaking up of the aircraft. Within certain limits, the pilot is able to minimize these forces by proper sea evaluation and selection of ditching heading.
- When on final approach the pilot should look ahead and observe the surface of the sea. There may be shadows and whitecaps - signs of large seas. Shadows and whitecaps close together indicate that the seas are short and rough. Touchdown in these areas is to be avoided. Select and touchdown in any area (only about 500 feet is needed) where the shadows and whitecaps are not so numerous.
- Touchdown should be at the lowest speed and rate of descent which permit safe handling and optimum nose up attitude on impact. Once first impact has been made there is often little the pilot can do to control a landplane.
- A successful aircraft ditching is dependent on three primary factors. In order of importance they are:
- Once preditching preparations are completed, the pilot should turn to the ditching heading and commence letdown. The aircraft should be flown low over the water, and slowed down until ten knots or so above stall. At this point, additional power should be used to overcome the increased drag caused by the noseup attitude. When a smooth stretch of water appears ahead, cut power, and touchdown at the best recommended speed as fully stalled as possible. By cutting power when approaching a relatively smooth area, the pilot will prevent over shooting and will touchdown with less chance of planing off into a second uncontrolled landing. Most experienced seaplane pilots prefer to make contact with the water in a semi-stalled attitude, cutting power as the tail makes contact. This technique eliminates the chance of misjudging altitude with a resultant heavy drop in a fully stalled condition. Care must be taken not to drop in a fully stalled condition. Care must be taken not to drop the aircraft from too high altitude, or to balloon due to excessive speed. The altitude above water depends on the aircraft. Over glassy smooth water, or at night without sufficient light, it is very easy for even the most experienced pilots to misjudge altitude by 50 feet or more. Under such conditions, carry enough power to maintain 9° to 12° noseup attitude, and 10° to 20° over stalling speed until contact is made with the water. The proper use of power on the approach is of great importance. If power is available on one side only, a little power should be used to flatten the approach; however, the engine should not be used to such an extent that the aircraft cannot be turned against the good engines right down to the stall with a margin of rudder movement available. When near the stall, sudden application of excessive unbalanced power may result in loss of directional control. If power is available on one side only, a slightly higher than normal glide approach speed should be used. This will insure good control and some margin of speed after leveling off without excessive use of power. The use of power in ditching is so important that when it is certain that the coast cannot be reached, the pilot should, if possible, ditch before fuel is exhausted. The use of power in a night or instrument ditching is far more essential than under daylight contact conditions.
- If no power is available, a greater than normal approach speed should be used down to the flare-out. This speed margin will allow the glide to be broken early and more gradually, thereby giving the pilot time and distance to feel for the surface - decreasing the possibility of stalling high or flying into the water. When landing parallel to a swell system, little difference is noted between landing on top of a crest or in the trough. If the wings of the aircraft are trimmed to the surface of the sea rather than the horizon, there is little need to worry about a wing hitting a swell crest. The actual slope of a swell is very gradual. If forced to land into a swell, touchdown should be made just after passage of the crest. If contact is made on the face of the swell, the aircraft may be swamped or thrown violently into the air, dropping heavily into the next swell. If control surfaces remain intact, the pilot should attempt to maintain the proper nose attitude by rapid and positive use of the controls.
In most cases drift caused by crosswind can be ignored; the forces acting on the aircraft after touchdown are of such magnitude that drift will be only a secondary consideration. If the aircraft is under good control, the “crab” may be kicked out with rudder just prior to touchdown. This is more important with high wing aircraft, for they are laterally unstable on the water in a crosswind, and may roll to the side in ditching.
This information has been extracted from the publication “Aircraft Emergency Procedures Over Water.”
- In most cases drift caused by crosswind can be ignored; the forces acting on the aircraft after touchdown are of such magnitude that drift will be only a secondary consideration. If the aircraft is under good control, the “crab” may be kicked out with rudder just prior to touchdown. This is more important with high wing aircraft, for they are laterally unstable on the water in a crosswind, and may roll to the side in ditching.
Should it become necessary to dump fuel, the pilot should immediately advise ATC. Upon receipt of advice that an aircraft will dump fuel, ATC will broadcast or cause to be broadcast immediately and every 3 minutes thereafter on appropriate ATC, FSS, and airline company radio frequencies the following:
ATTENTION ALL AIRCRAFT-FUEL DUMPING IN PROGRESS-OVER (location) AT (altitude) BY (type aircraft) (flight direction).
Upon receipt of such a broadcast, pilots of aircraft affected, which are not on IFR flight plans or special VFR clearances, should clear the area specified in the advisory. Aircraft on IFR flight plans or special VFR clearances will be provided specific separation by ATC. At the termination of the fuel dumping operation, pilots should advise ATC. Upon receipt of such information, ATC will issue, on appropriate frequencies, the following:
ATTENTION ALL AIRCRAFT-FUEL DUMPING BY- (type aircraft) TERMINATED.
- Should it become necessary to dump fuel, the pilot should immediately advise ATC. Upon receipt of advice that an aircraft will dump fuel, ATC will broadcast or cause to be broadcast immediately and every 3 minutes thereafter on appropriate ATC, FSS, and airline company radio frequencies the following:
Special Emergency (Air Piracy)
- A special emergency is a condition of air piracy, or other hostile act by a person(s) aboard an aircraft, which threatens the safety of the aircraft or its passengers.
The pilot of an aircraft reporting a special emergency condition should:
- If circumstances permit, apply distress or urgency radio - telephony procedures. Include the details of the special emergency.
If circumstances do not permit the use of prescribed distress or urgency procedures, transmit:
- On the air-ground frequency in use at the time.
As many as possible of the following elements spoken distinctly and in the following order.
- Name of the station addressed (time and circumstances permitting).
- The identification of the aircraft and present position.
- The nature of the special emergency condition and pilot intentions (circumstances permitting).
If unable to provide this information, use code words and/or transponder setting for indicated meanings as follows:
TRANSPONDER SEVEN FIVE ZERO ZERO
Am being hijacked/forced to a new destination
Mode 3/A, Code 7500
Code 7500 will never be assigned by ATC without prior notification from the pilot that the aircraft is being subjected to unlawful interference. The pilot should refuse the assignment of this code in any other situation and inform the controller accordingly. Code 7500 will trigger the special emergency indicator in all radar ATC facilities.
- Air traffic controllers will acknowledge and confirm receipt of transponder Code 7500 by asking the pilot to verify it. If the aircraft is not being subjected to unlawful interference, the pilot should respond to the query by broadcasting in the clear that the aircraft is not being subjected to unlawful interference. Upon receipt of this information, the controller will request the pilot to verify the code selection depicted in the code selector windows in the transponder control panel and change the code to the appropriate setting. If the pilot replies in the affirmative or does not reply, the controller will not ask further questions but will flight follow, respond to pilot requests, and notify appropriate authorities.
If it is possible to do so without jeopardizing the safety of the flight, the pilot of a hijacked U.S. passenger aircraft, after departing from the cleared routing over which the aircraft was operating, will attempt to do one or more of the following things insofar as circumstances may permit:
- Maintain a true airspeed of no more than 400 knots and, preferably, an altitude of between 10,000 and 25,000 feet.
- Fly a course toward the destination which the hijacker has announced.
- If these procedures result in either radio contact or air intercept, the pilot will attempt to comply with any instructions received which may direct the aircraft to an appropriate landing field or alter the aircraft's flight path off its current course, away from protected airspace.
FAA K-9 Explosives Detection Team Program
- 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 (wide body and narrow body), vehicles, terminal, freight, (cargo), and luggage. If you desire this service, notify your company or an FAA air traffic control facility.
FAA Sponsored Explosives Detection Dog/Handler Team Locations
TBL GEN 3.6-5
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
- 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 above, it is recommended 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.