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Search and Rescue

Search and Rescue

Search and Rescue (SAR) is a lifesaving service provided by each country and implemented in a nationally coordinated SAR plan. It implements facilities including aircraft, vessels, local law enforcement, Coast Guard and Air Force, para and ground rescue teams. Pilots of aircraft can assure themselves of these services by filing a flight plan prior to or during their flight.

ATC will alert the Search and Rescue system when information is received that an aircraft is overdue, in apparent difficulty or even gone missing. Pilots should be prepared in case of an emergency situation and be familiar with ground to air signals.

When flying over inhospitable areas it can be a lifesaver to have at least a basic survival kit plus tools and food on board so that you can live through the first couple of days in the wilderness.

VFR SAR Protection

Radar is used to follow aircraft and provide flight following or information services and a sudden loss of contact or the lack of a flight plan termination notice could be considered a possible emergency. The best indicator that an aircraft is overdue is a filed flight plan. Flight plan information is therefore essential to SAR.

Flight plans

The information in a flight plan (route, fuel on board and TAS), can give a good indication of the extend of the search area. You as the PIC have the responsibility to enter accurate information. Prior to the flight call the destination and someone at your departure point where you are going. Lives have been lost by pilots taking off and not letting anyone know where they were going.

Any changes in the flight plan e.g. delays of more than 30 minutes, landing at a different destination should be forwarded to ATC. Do not forget to close your flight plan, SAR actions are costly and might become your problem.

Preflight and briefing

Preflight should also include a review of the terrain the flight will cross and passengers should be briefed in case of emergency on survival equipment and such.

Passenger briefing should include the operation of seat belts, opening of aircraft doors and emergency exits, the location of fire extinguisher, axe and life raft, and how to operate and don life vests and emergency oxygen.

Survival equipment

The onboard survival equipment should be adequate for the terrain the flight will cross. A life raft is useless in mountainous areas. A survival pack containing some essentials for the first couple of days can become a great help and be sure that the contents is usable.

Having a portable aviation transceiver with a fresh set of batteries in case the aircraft radio is damaged should be obvious. There are a number of manufacturers, Icom and Sporty's, that sell these handy radio's. Well worth having!
Also, a satellite phone has tremendous value in such cases.

Search and Rescue

Body signals

If down on the ground and you or one of the passengers is able to get the attention of the rescue aircraft, body signals can be used to convey messages.

Make sure that you stand in a open field and that the background is contrasting (camouflage does not help here), and move slowly while signaling.

Body signals can be found in literature such as the FAA Aeronautical Information Manual (opens in a separate window).

Downed aircraft

In case that you observe a downed aircraft then look for a yellow cross indicating that it has been reported and identified. If there is not, try to determine the type of aircraft and any possible evidence of survivors in the area and contact ATC.


Obtain the position of the crash (GPS, VOR, Transponder, DME or map LAT/LON position), any geographical reference (trees, valleys or landmark) and supply this information to ATC. If at all possible, remain over the site in orbit until SAR has arrived else notify the authorities after landing and report the situation.

Written by EAI.

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