“In the Unlikely Event of ?”

With the coming long holiday weekend, and summer flying in general, it's a safe bet that the amount of over-water flying increases manifold. The risk of a water landing is remote, but engines do fail. So it's worth investing the thought ahead of time to scope out what you'd do … IF. And don't discount the possibility of a water landing if you live far from one of the coasts, or if you make it a practice never to venture offshore. A lake or river might be the only visible flat spot -- especially at night -- should the engine suddenly suffer from terminal silence.

For me, the enduring takeaway from a water-survival exercise a few years ago was the simple part. Assume that when the banging and thrashing stops, you will be really, really scared, cold and wet; and you will not be able to see. If the airplane is right side up, it will be a total coincidence. Even then, you will likely not be able to tell which way is up.

So, leave all seat belts on until the airplane has come to a stop, even if it starts to fill with water. Once the motion has stopped, with your belt still on, reach over and open the door, which you should be able to do without looking. You might have to wait until the cabin fills with water. Don't let that panic you, even if the airplane is sinking and it's getting dark outside. Just wait until the last second and take a deep breath. Then get a good grip on some predesignated close-by handhold and "walk" your way to the exit, being sure to keep your feet planted on the floor, one step at a time. Plan ahead exactly where you will place your hands and your feet as you make your way to the exit. This can be a real challenge in a neutral buoyancy environment, so you need to make it a conscious effort. Never try to swim your way to the door; tell your passengers the same thing. If the nose is down, you'll end up in the back seat. If the tail is pointing down, you'll end up stuck under the panel. You have to hang onto something and hoof it, even if it's upside down.

Of course, there are volumes I've left untouched -- how to pick a landing spot; how best to get your passengers out (first, make sure you won't be trapped, or you might not be able to help them); what you should have packed for flotation; how to fight off hypothermia -- or a shark. Most of that has been written about elsewhere. But I had never heard the hand-over-hand, step-over-step advice before taking the course. And if that's all you remember from this, it's the start of a fighting chance.

Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Get the latest FLYING stories delivered directly to your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter