CASARA Makes History!

From June 30 to July 2nd CASARA, for the first time ever joined 424 (T&R) Squadron, 8 Wing, CFB Trenton at an international airshow held at Traverse City Michigan (KTVC).  Picking up crews from around Ontario proved challenging due to weather. The CASARA contingent from CARES Zone 11 Niagara, flew a Cessna 337 Skymaster and was forced to leave the night before to pick up Adam Hill from CASARA London, Ontario and then the next day divert to KMBS (Saginaw) en route to KANJ (Sanderson MI near Sault Ste Marie) to clear US Customs. The 424 Squadron aircraft, a Hercules CC-130H, attempted to pick up our crew at KANJ but it too was forced to adapt to the changing weather and finally land at KCIU (Chippewa) where they were able to pick up our final member (Wayne Spencer from CASARA Sault Ste. Marie) for the airshow and clear US Customs. A CH146 Griffon helicopter also made the trip but again due to weather was forced to delay its arrival until after seven pm that day.
Upon arriving at KTVC we found ourselves in good company with the hospitality of the Traverse City Coast Guard Station where we were eventually positioned fittingly under the wing of our Hercules. A variety of US aircraft were in attendance including A-10 Thunderbolts, The US demonstration team, The Thunderbirds flying F-16’s, F-18 Super Hornets and the odd Blackhawk helicopter. It was quite a display! The CASARA aircraft acted as a static disply while the Herc and Griffon flew flypasts on both days with CASARA Spotters onboard. It was a very successful weekend for both 424 and CASARA.

A second reason for attending was to check out the CAP (Civil Air Patrol) at Alpena two and a half hours away. Our CLO, Capt. Claude Courcelles accompanied by the AC for the Cessna Skymaster, Gord Tessier along with the Navigator, Alex Cuberovic made the trek to Alpena where they spent the next day observing CAP’s cadet training program, discussing CAP technology and learning everything we could about CAP. Essentially taking their best practices to see if we can adopt any of them to CASARA. In the end it was discovered that CAP and CASARA are very much alike. The sense of volunteerism among their memebers is par excellence. They truly reflect what is best about America and they made us feel very welcome. We will continue to learn and exchange ideas with our southern neighbours. After sharing a meal with them we departed the next day back to Traverse City. We left for home but were again challenged by the weather forcing us to leave our crew member, Wayne Spencer about an hour south of where we had planned. In the end, everyone made it safely home.

It was an historic weekend for CASARA and we look forward to many more opportunities to share best practices and improve our already good relations with our Amercian SAR partners.

As we approached Canadian Airspace we were soberley reminded of just why we were there.   A controller calmly but with a sense of urgency was calling out, looking for an aircrft that as he described it,  was officialy reported as overdue. As we neared Grand Bend my Spotter received a text indicating that one of our own Hercules was involved in a search on the west end of Lake Erie after a distress call was made and an overturned canoe was discovered.

“That others may live”

Below are a few photos from the event.



Royal Canadian Air Force Search and Rescue Technician dies in training accident

News Release

March 8, 2017 – WINNIPEG – National Defence / Canadian Armed Forces

A Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Search and Rescue Technician (SAR Tech) based at 17 Wing Winnipeg died in an accident during training near Yorkton, Sask. on Wednesday, March 8, 2017.

Master-Corporal Alfred Barr was a member of 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The RCAF’s Directorate of Flight Safety will be investigating the accident and no further information will be released about the incident while that is ongoing.

“On behalf of all 17 Wing Winnipeg and the entire RCAF, I would like to express my condolences to Master-Corporal Alfred Barr’s family, friends and fellow service members. Master-Corporal Barr was a valuable member of 435 Squadron’s Search and Rescue team, and he will be deeply missed.”

Colonel Andy Cook, 17 Wing Winnipeg Commander



The British Columbia Search and Rescue Association (BCSARA), Provincial Emergency Program Air (PEP Air), and Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue (RCMSAR) are establishing a memorial ‘In memory of those who died in the line of duty, and to honour all that serve’.

Members of BCSARA, PEP Air, RCMSAR, and other Search and Rescue organizations and agencies are invited to attend the unveiling of the Search and Rescue Volunteer Memorial on March 02, 2017 at noon on the grounds of the Parliament Buildings in Victoria British Columbia.

The Search and Rescue Volunteer Memorial Committee requests all attendees be in place by 1145hrs.

Members are requested to wear uniform or outerwear indentifying their organization. As the weather can be variable in March we recommend attendees dress warm, bring waterproof outerwear in case of rain, and good footwear for a grass surface.

The ceremony will be available live online at:

Please join us for this important event to honour our fallen and all those who serve.

‘Luckiest 2 guys in the Arctic’ rescued by military plane training for search and rescue

Feb 25, 2017 From

A Royal Canadian Air Force Twin Otter crew out for some search-and-rescue training accidentally found — and rescued — two Nunavut hunters on the land.

Thom Doelman, a captain with the Royal Canadian Air Force in Yellowknife, said the crew was flying near Hall Beach, Nunavut, during Operation Nunalivut, a sovereignty exercise that happens each year in Canada’s North.

Thursday afternoon’s training exercise was a search mission at an old mine site.

Once the Twin Otter crew found the mine from rough co-ordinates, Doelman began an expanding-square pattern to survey the tundra.

That’s when from his window, Cpl. Jason MacKenzie saw something he didn’t expect — a person who possible needed help.

“As you can imagine, we were shocked to hear this,” said Doelman.

By the time the plane returned for a second pass, there were two people waving on the sea ice.

“We assessed it as a crew,” Doelman said, recalling that they only had about 30 minutes before it would be too dark to attempt a landing.

“We didn’t know of any missing persons, but we felt that given that it’s the Arctic, given that it was about to get dark, that we couldn’t continue back to Hall Beach without checking on these guys.”

The captain had never landed on sea ice with wheels on the plane instead of the skis, so he did what’s called a “nose-off drag” where the main tires are dragged along the ice to check that it could hold the plane’s weight.

Once Doelman landed beside the pair’s makeshift shelter, he immediately began preparing the plane to take off again. He estimated they had 15 minutes on the ground before it would be too dark to take off.

They invited the two hunters on board and quickly took off again for Hall Beach.

Doelman offered them food and hot water when they asked if he had found their friend.

“At this point my heart sank because to find out there was a third guy out there, it was unbelievable,” he said.

The three had been on the land for three days.

Two adults and a teen — Tyler Amarualik, Lloyd Satuqsi, and Eugene Gibbons — had been on a hunting trip about 40 kilometres south of Hall Beach when their snowmobile broke down. They tried to activate their SPOT device, but it didn’t work.

Gibbons and Amarualik made a temporary shelter while Satugsi started to walk back in the direction of town. But Gibbons and Amarualik hadn’t heard from their friend — or seen any sign of a rescue crew — in two days.

Doelman says the pair thought his Twin Otter crew was looking for them.

“I was very happy I was going home, because I wasn’t sure if I was going home, sleeping outside, fearing that we weren’t going to be found,” Gibbons, 15, said in Inuktitut.

Ground search

After picking the two up, it was too dark to search — not to mention the plane was low on fuel — so Doelman called ahead to the Hall Beach airport for the RCMP, who, with the hamlet, organized a ground search.

They found Satuqsi near Hall Beach Friday morning around 4:30 a.m.

He was flown to Iqaluit for hypothermia and frostbite, but is in stable condition.

The other two had some minor frostbite on their toes, but are otherwise in good health.

“They’re the luckiest two guys in the Arctic that I know,” said Doelman.

“[Search and rescue] is not our squadron’s primary mission but we still train for it and practice it. It proves why we have to train to be ready for something like this.”




Feb 24, 2017: CASARA Search Success

Royal Canadian Air Force personnel transfer Joe Black from a Hercules C-130 to a waiting ambulance at the Yellowknife airport. Black was missing for days near MacKay Lake before being spotted by searchers Wednesday. (submitted by Capt. Jeffrey McIsaac/RCAF)

A hunter who was found Wednesday after being missing more than 50 hours on the barrenlands is recovering today in Stanton Territorial Hospital.

Joe Black, 65, of Behchoko, N.W.T., became separated from his hunting companions and was caught in a snowstorm shortly after noon Monday.

Black was spotted near Murdock Lake Wednesday by a community member on board a helicopter with Civil Air Search and Rescue Association (CASARA) spotters. The helicopter was able to land and pick him up.

Black was then taken to the Gahcho Kue diamond mine airstrip, where he was transferred to a Hercules C-130 that was also involved in the search.

Military search and rescue technicians on board the Hercules provided Black with medical attention during the flight to Yellowknife.

RCMP said Thursday that a conservative estimate of the number of people involved with the search would be 80 to 90 people, including community members from Whati and Behchoko, CASARA spotters, Royal Canadian Air Force crew, Gahcho Kue mine staff, winter road staff, Air Tindi, ACASTA Heli Flights and RCMP. Yellowknife ground search and rescue were also on standby.
Helping Black make it home safely had an effect on the experienced RCAF crew.

“We train all the time for this sort of mission and we always hope for success, so when we see this and experience it, it makes us feel really good about the jobs that we do every day,” said Capt. Jeffrey McIsaac.

“We all really love the jobs that we’re in, and this is why.”

McIsaac said it took the Hercules half an hour to make the 280-kilometre trip from Gahcho Kue to Yellowknife.

with files from Alex Brockman

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Volunteering: the essence of CASARA

By Captain Nicole Meszaros, 8 Wing Public Affairs Officer

The Civil Air Search and Rescue Association, or CASARA, is a Canada-wide volunteer aviation association dedicated to the promotion of Aviation Safety, and to the provision of air search support services to the National Search and Rescue Program.

Comprised of approximately 2800 volunteers nation-wide, these men and women actively augment the Canadian Forces’ primary Search and Rescue (SAR) assets during SAR missions by supplying spotters for military search aircraft but also by providing pilots, navigators and aircraft when called upon to do so by any of the three Joint Rescue Coordination Centres (JRCC) in Canada.

All CASARA volunteers are certified by the organization to ensure a high level of service can be provided to the CF but also to ensure that those in need have high quality professionals searching for them. CASARA volunteers willingly agree to participate in searches when environments are challenging and weather conditions are adverse.

“The essence of being a volunteer is that you cannot demand their service, the CASARA member has to volunteer because they want to”, said John Davidson, President of CASARA. “We encourage a positive approach towards our volunteers because the most valuable commodity they give us is time.”

An average of 1,000 hours each year has been flown on actual search operations since the association’s inception in 1986. “Our people have volunteered approximately 200,000 hrs last year to be trained and on stand-by for the JRCCs or whoever needs us,” Mr Davidson said.

Mr Davidson explained that one of the association’s greatest contributions to CF SAR assets is the local knowledge that the pilots, navigators, spotters, ground personnel and coordinators have of their respective areas. “Our members might know of an airplane in an area so that if emergency locator transmitter goes of, we might have a good idea of where to look.”

This local knowledge may have the effect of quickly ending a search or allowing CF aircraft to not participate thereby reducing the workload on SAR squadrons.

The president acknowledged that working alongside the Canadian Forces poses certain challenges but that there exists pride in helping on CF SAR missions. “The whole reason we are there is to assist the military when resources are short and to reduce the workload when the CF needs something to maintain them through tough times,” Mr Davidson said. “The volunteers are proud they can provide this service and fiercely proud of serving with the Canadian Forces.”

In September, 424 Transport and Rescue Squadron hosted the National Search and Rescue Exercise (SAREX) at 22 Wing/CFB North Bay. The goal of National SAREX was to help SAR squadrons and CASARA units from across the country work together to in a common environment and to allow them to test their standards and evaluate their proficiency.

CASARA units fared well at the exercise with the Yarmouth CASARA team winning the award for team spirit, proof the positive approach towards volunteering is successful.

What Will You Find on Scene?

By Paul D. Turner, CARES Niagara

As a Search and Rescue emergency response organization, each and every member must be prepared for what he / she might find on-scene. Most of the time we spend our time at cold, dark, and often deserted airports or other such locations during a SAR Actual tasking. Tracking what most members expect to be yet another one of those ELT / EPIRB false alerts we generally respond to. We train in a manner where little consideration is given to what searchers might very well find when he / she arrives at the scene of an actual air, marine, or ground related accident.

Members who are called out on SAR Actual searches may be the first SAR response personnel to arrive at what might be, an extremely disturbing sight and experience, for those not prepared for what is likely to be found. Although the preservation of life is usually the first consideration – SAFETY must be a priority for anyone approaching such a scene. The contamination or destruction of evidence is yet another issue to be considered by the responding crew.

That soft ground below you might very well be the remains of a crew member or passenger of the ill fated flight. Do you know how you might be effected by such a scene? How would you react? It is best to consider these issues now before facing such a situation. Think about it – Talk about it – Mentally prepare yourself to take a PRIORITY ACTION APPROACH to manage the scene. What must be done immediately? What can wait? Is it Safe? Am I qualified? What are the unseen hazards? Will my actions endanger myself, and / or others, or make the situation worse?

Potential hazards include, the possibility of fire, explosion, shock hazard, hot fluids such as hydraulic or engine oil, battery acid, pressurized oxygen, sharp metal sections of the air-frame, and weapon or ejection systems on military aircraft. Don’t forget about the possibility of a hazardous cargo, and sometimes firearms or ammunition from a survival kit.

One must also remember that ground based hazards are also likely to be present in some locations. It is also possible that victims and debris are likely to be scattered over a large area, perhaps even caught over-head in trees or wires – Definitely a hazard worth looking up to. Don’t forget that hydro wires may have been taken down in the flight path of the aircraft. These are just some of the reasons that may present an overwhelming problem for civilian SAR response personnel with limited rescue training.

I have often heard people discuss walking up to a down aircraft to do the honourable and gallant – Lets save a life first and worry about the repercussions later – WRONG attitude! I can assure you that these are the people who endanger all our lives, the lives of possible survivors, and could be the down fall of civilian SAR response. First and foremost – Communicate immediately with the objective of getting the appropriate emergency services to the accident scene. Along with this objective is making an assessment of the situation.

This is absolutely necessary to ensure the preservation of life – Yours, mine, and those persons who were fortunate enough to have survived the accident. This is why you must give top priority to assessing the situation, and making absolutely certain that the appropriate safety precautions are taken at every step. If you fail to do so, you could easily, (and most likely will) make the situation worse, perhaps with considerable injury or loss of life. Although the following is a guideline only, since every accident scene will be a unique situation, it is recommended that all members review and understand these guidelines.

Exceptional judgment and common sense must be applied. Communicate immediately with emergency services, rescue personnel, and the Search Coordinator, or JRCC, and be sure to provide as much information as possible to the responding authorities about the location, situation, access, and approximate number of victims involved. Don’t forget to identify yourself and your tasking. Carefully assess the area for potential hazards, and do what you can to make the area safe, or DO NOT enter the area. There are many reasons for not entering the area, these generally include fire, heavy smoke, downed power lines, and natural hazards such as terrain or water. Do not smoke, or carry flares anywhere near the accident scene.

Remain well clear of any spills such as oil, fuel, or unidentified substances. Allow only the most essential personnel near the accident scene, it is both unacceptable, and there is absolutely no need for the entire crew to be walking through the accident scene. If it is necessary, do not wander aimlessly through the accident scene, move with purpose, taking care to avoid injury or contaminating what might be a crime scene. The Contribution Agreement currently in force specifically states in section 3.5 SAFETY – The Department of National Defence shall, insofar as possible, ensure the Federal authorities are aware that CASARA members retain the right to decline to participate in any activity which may jeopardize the safety of any person or aircraft.

Identify locations where survivors may be trapped or located, and only if you have determined it is safe to approach. Render the appropriate first-aid, which will likely be somewhat limited if survivors are trapped.

Use psychological first-aid techniques to calm survivors as is required. Maintain a detailed log of your actions on scene, remember your ability to recall information from memory will be limited after the incident is under control. The sooner information is committed to written form, the better. This information, and all other documentation, will become part of the official investigation for Transport Canada accident investigators, law enforcement personnel, and possibly used during litigation proceedings. Be sure to keep your thoughts, and notes clear and organized, without opinion, state only facts which you know to be true, hearsay and gossip must never be included as fact. Avoid disturbing the accident scene to the best of your ability, and be sure to preserve evidence which might assist the accident investigators, or other authorities.

If the scene cannot be approached, direct your energy to making the area accessible for responding authorities by moving the communication vehicle and any bystanders to a safe location and get lights on to make the area as bright as possible, and if appropriate get barricade tape up around the area to keep bystanders away . Once emergency personnel are on scene, immediately provide them with as much information about the hazards, survivors, and location of bodies that you may have discovered, as well as any other important information you might have.

Arriving on scene to find wide spread wreckage, seriously injured passengers, and fatalities can be an extremely disturbing and traumatic experience for even highly trained professional emergency personnel. It is therefore important that you give every consideration to training and preparing yourself for what could be the one time in your life when you really need to remain calm and act with confidence and professional ability.

Know your limitations, accept your limitations, and accept the awesome responsibility to which you have committed yourself by volunteering for the tasking of a SAR Actual. If you don’t believe you could handle what might be found – Don’t volunteer for SAR Actual tasking, there are lots of other areas in which you might be of assistance, other than on a search crew.

Health and Wellness – Fit to Fly

From CASARA Ottawa

The following information was taken from Aeronautical Information Manual (Transport Canada) and From the Ground Up for pilots in training. Most of what follows apply to crews also and is basically Common Sense.


We as members of CASARA are required to be physically fit and healthy so that we are alert and able to carry out our tasks. We all sign a medical declaration each year to say that we are medically fit and able to participate in CASARA activities, pilots also as part of their license have a periodic medical examination by a civil aviation medical examiner the frequency of which depends on their age.

There is no precise regulation which tells airmen whether they are fit to fly and there is no pre-flight inspection to ensure fitness. The individual, therefore, must have no condition which impairs alertness, reaction time or decision making ability. Persons with conditions which could result in sudden or subtle incapacitation, such as epilepsy, heart disease, uncontrolled diabetes mellitus, or diabetes requiring insulin or oral hypoglycemic agents, cannot be medically certified according to CAR Canadian Aviation Regulations 424. Conditions such as anemia, acute infection or peptic ulcers are temporarily disqualifying.

To be healthy we need to eat a good balanced diet, get plenty of sleep and make sure we do a reasonable amount of exercise. Many of us these days sit in front of a computer for 8 hours a day, we need to compensate for this. I know I find that if I sit around a lot and don’t exercise I become quite lethargic and everything is an effort, can’t be bothered. You don’t have to go out and run marathons, etc. a good brisk 30 minute walk several times a week works wonders. If we just remember moderation in everything we do, eating, drinking, exercising, etc, we will be OK. It is also advisable to have a yearly medical checkup with your GP to make sure everything is in good working order and if it isn’t to get it fixed before it becomes more serious.

We all get sick at some time or other and need medication of some sort, this is when we have to think carefully about flying. Self medication or taking medicine in any form immediately before or while flying can be hazardous. Simple remedies such as antihistamines, cough and cold mixture, laxatives, tranquilizers and appetite suppressants, may seriously impair our judgment and co-ordination. The condition for which the medicine is required may itself reduce ones efficiency to a dangerous level, even though the symptoms are masked by medicine.

Certain drugs have been associated with aircraft accidents in the recent past. The most common of these are antihistamines, (widely prescribed for hayfever and other allergies, and contained in many cold and cough remedies), tranquilizers (prescribed for nervous conditions, hypertension and other conditions) and appetite reducing drugs such as amphetamines. Barbiturates, nerve tonics or pills prescribed for digestive and other disorders may produce a marked depression of mental alertness.

Don’t fly with a cold. A cold that is a mere discomfort on the ground can become a serious menace to pilots and passengers in the air. Tiredness, irritability, drowsiness and pain are all symptoms of a cold and work together to make a pilot unsafe in the air. More insidious, however, is the effect a cold may have on the sinuses and on the middle and inner ear. Swollen lymph tissue and mucous membranes may block the sinuses causing disabling pain and pressure vertigo during descent from altitude. Infection of the inner ear, that is a common symptom of a cold, can also produce severe vertigo. The tissue around the nasal end of the Eustachian tube will quite likely be swollen and middle ear problems associated under normal conditions with descent from altitude will be severely aggravated. A perforated eardrum is a possible result. Although a perforated eardrum usually heals quickly in some cases there is permanent hearing impairment or prolonged infection of the middle ear.

Any general discomfort, whether due to colds, indigestion, nausea, worry, lack of sleep or any other bodily weakness, is not conducive to safe flying.


Excessive fatigue is perhaps the most insidious of these conditions, resulting in inattentiveness, slow reactions and confused mental processes. The biggest danger of fatigue is that an individual may not recognize its effects.

The onset of fatigue is accompanied by numerous symptoms: deterioration in timing of movements, irritability and lack of patience, a tendency to lock the attention on individual instruments rather than to see the instrument panel as a whole, a tendency to become forgetful and ignorant of relevant cues, a tendency to over control the airplane, an awareness of physical discomforts, a loss of “seat of the pants” flying ability, a tendency to accept a wider margin of error than normal.

Fatigue is caused by many things: lack of sleep, poor nutrition, stress, prolonged and repeated flights, aircraft noise, eye strain, vibration, wide variations in temperature and humidity, heavy workload and uncomfortable working conditions, boredom, monotony, night flights, frustrations from work and family.

Excessive fatigue should be considered a reason for cancelling or postponing a flight.


Flying fitness is not just a physical condition. It has a definite meaning in the psychological sense as well. It involves the ability of the pilot to perceive, think and act to the best of his ability without the hindering effects of anger, worry and anxiety.

Studies have shown that emotional factors, mental upset and psychological maladjustments are repeatedly present in airplane accidents. The ability to think clearly and act decisively is greatly influenced by the feelings and emotions. In fact, every individual will panic earlier than normal if he is suffering from fatigue, illness, worry or anger. But, even well away from the panic threshold, good judgment is seriously impaired under stress.

There are many factors that contribute to stress in the cockpit. They are generally classed into three categories:

  • Physical which includes extreme temperature and humidity, noise, vibration, lack of oxygen.
  • Physiological which includes fatigue, poor physical condition, hunger and disease
  • Psychological which relates to emotional factors such as a death or illness in the family, business worries, poor interpersonal relationships with family or boss, financial worries etc.

Man is essentially a terrestrial creature. His body is equipped to operate at greatest efficiency within relatively narrow limits of atmospheric pressure and through years of habit, has adapted itself to movement on the ground.

Affects of flying on Human Body

In his quest for adventure and his desire for progress, man has ventured into a foreign environment, the air high above the ground. But these lofty heights are not natural to man. As altitude increases, the body becomes less and less efficient to a point, at sufficient altitude, of incapacitation and unconsciousness. Completely deprived of oxygen, the body dies in 8 minutes. Without ground reference, the senses can play tricks, sometimes fatal tricks.

Airplane accidents are an occurrence that every conscientious pilot is concerned with preventing. Most aircraft accidents are highly preventable. Many of them have one factor in common. They are precipitated by some human failing rather than by a mechanical malfunction. In fact statistics indicate that human factors are involved in 85% of aircraft accidents. Many of these have been the result of disorientation, physical incapacitation and even the death of the pilot during the flight. Others are the result of poor management of cockpit resources.


Because hypoxia comes on without warning of any kind, supplementary oxygen must be available in any aircraft that will be flown above 10.000ft. the general rule of oxygen above 10,00ft ASL by day and above 5.000ft ASL by night is one the wise pilot will practice to avoid the hazard of this debilitating condition. Hypoxia can be defined as a lack of sufficient oxygen in the body cells or tissues.

The greatest concentration of air molecules is near the earth’s surface. There is progressively less air and therefore less oxygen (per unit volume) as you ascend to higher altitudes. Therefore each breath of air that you breathe at, for example, 15,000ft ASL has about half the amount of oxygen of a breath taken at sea level.

But the most important fact to remember about hypoxia is that the individual is unaware that he is exhibiting symptoms of this condition. The brain centre that would warn him of decreasing efficiency is the first to be affected and the pilot enjoys a misguided sense of well-being. Neither is there any pain nor any other warning signs that tell him that his alertness is deteriorating. The effects of hypoxia progress from euphoria (feeling of well-being) to reduced vision, confusion, inability to concentrate, impaired judgment and slowed reflexes to eventual loss of consciousness.

The retina of the eye is more sensitive to hypoxia than any part of the body: one of the first symptoms of which is a decrease in night vision.

There are many other factors which affect vision. Hypoxia, carbon monoxide poisoning, alcohol, drugs, fatigue and smoking are only a few of these. After time spent in bright sunlight the eye is slow to adapt to darkness and this may reduce night vision. To improve dark adaption pilots should use sunglasses during the day to avoid eye fatigue. At night cockpit light should be kept low and flashlights should be equipped with red filters to maintain the dark adaption needed to see clearly outside the cockpit.

Carbon Monoxide

Oxygen is transported throughout the body by combining with the haemoglobin in the blood. However, this vital transportation agent, haemoglobin, has 210 times the affinity for carbon monoxide that it has for oxygen. Therefore, even the smallest amounts of carbon monoxide can seriously interfere with the distribution of oxygen and produce a type of hypoxia, known as anaemic hypoxia.

Carbon monoxide is colourless, odourless and tasteless. It is a product of fuel combustion and is found in varying amounts in the exhaust from airplane engines. A defect, crack or hole in the cabin heating system may allow this gas to enter the cockpit of the airplane.

Susceptibility to carbon monoxide increases with altitude. At higher altitudes, the body has difficulty getting enough oxygen because of decreased pressure. The additional problem of carbon monoxide could make the situation critical.

Early symptoms of CO poisoning are feelings of sluggishness and warmness. Intense headache, throbbing in the temples, ringing in the ears, dizziness and dimming of vision follow as exposure increases. Eventually vomiting, convulsions, coma and death result.

Although CO poisoning is a type of hypoxia, it is unlike altitude hypoxia in that it is not immediately remedied by the use of oxygen or by descent to lower altitudes.

If you notice exhaust fumes or experience any of the symptoms associated with CO poisoning, you should shut off the cabin heater, open a fresh air source immediately, avoid smoking, use 100% oxygen if it is available and land at the first opportunity and ensure that all effects of CO are gone before continuing the flight. It may take several days to rid the body of carbon monoxide.

In some cases, it may be wise to consult a doctor.

Many small aircraft have a small CO detector glued to the instrument panel. The detector will turn dark brown to grey/black when exposed to carbon monoxide and that, even a slight darkening, may indicate a dangerous level of carbon monoxide. When the air freshens, the detector will return to its original colour.

Decompression Sickness

Because of the change in barometric pressure during ascent and descent, gases trapped in certain body cavities expand or contract.

The inability to pass this gas may cause abdominal pain, toothache or pain in ears or sinus cavities. In some cases, the pain may be so severe as to lead to incapacitation.

The middle ear and the nasal sinuses are essentially closed cavities with a narrow drainage, pressure-equalizing tube (The Eustachion tube). As the aircraft climbs, air in the body cavities expands as the barometric pressure decreases. Normally air will escape from the middle ear and the sinuses and you will only notice the ears “popping”. The outlet of these tubes, however is narrow and, if you have a head cold or a throat infection, local swelling may reduce it. On ascent air may still be able to escape but on descent, particularly at high rates, the outlet may close like a flap preventing air from re-entering the middle ear cavity. The increasing atmospheric pressure will then force the eardrum inward. This can lead to severe pain and to an injury known as barotraumas (pressure injury).

Pressure in the ears can be equalized by swallowing, yawning, or be Valsalva manoeuvre.

At ground level the body tissues are saturated with nitrogen the inert gas which makes up 80% of our atmosphere. As the aircraft climbs atmospheric pressure is reduced, and by 18,000ft ASL atmospheric pressure is halved. Pilots flying aircraft with unpressurised cabins at altitudes greater than 25,00ft ASL may be subject to the “bends”.

This condition is caused by bubbles of nitrogen forming in the tissues because the atmospheric pressure is less than the pressure at ground level. As we do not fly at these altitudes I wont go any further with this, but it is a good time to mention Scuba diving.

A person that flies in an airplane immediately after engaging in the sport of scuba diving risks severe decompression sickness at much lower altitude than would normally be expected from this problem. The breather tanks used by a scuba diver to deliver compressed air that supersaturates the body tissues with nitrogen even in a shallow dive. At a depth of 30 ft, the body absorbs twice as much nitrogen as it would on the ground. Ascending to 8,000ft ASL could bring on incapacitating bends.

After non-decompression dives, flights up to 8,000ft ASL should be avoided for 12 hours. Where decompression stops have been required during the ascent to the surface, the interval should be 24 hours. For actual flights above 8,000ft ASL the interval is 24 hours, regardless of the type of dive, as even pressurized aircraft may lose cabin pressurization. A good rule, if you have dived to a depth below 30 ft, is not to fly for 24 hours to permit the nitrogen content of the body to return to normal.


Good vision is of primary importance in flying, in judgment of distance, depth perception, reading of charts and instruments. It should be scrupulously protected.

Pilots are exposed to higher light levels than is the average person. Very high light levels prevail at altitude because the atmosphere is less dense. In addition, light is reflected back at the pilot by cloud tops. This light contains more of the damaging blue and ultra-violet wavelengths than are encountered on the surface of the earth. Prolonged exposure can cause damage to the eye and especially to the lens.

Sunglasses should therefore, be worn to provide protection against these dangers and to prevent eyestrain.

Atmospheric obscuring phenomena such as haze, smoke and fog have an effect on the distance the normal eye can see. The ability of the eye to maintain distance focus is weakened. Distant objects are not outlined sharply against the horizon and, after a short lapse of time, the eye, having no distance point to fix on, has difficulty maintaining focus at a distance of more than a mile or two (a condition known as empty field myopia) As a result scanning for other aircraft becomes difficult and requires special effort on the part of the pilot.

At night the pilot’s vision is greatly impaired. The cones that are concentrated in the centre of the eye need a lot of light to function properly. As a result, there is a blind spot in the centre of the eye at night. This blind spot is sufficiently large to block out the view of another airplane some distance away if the pilot is looking directly at it.

At night it is necessary to develop the technique of using peripheral vision. One sees at night by means of the rods that are concentrated on the edges of the eye and are responsible for peripheral vision. It takes the rods about 30 minutes to adjust fully to darkness. Even a small amount of white light will destroy the dark adaptation. Therefore, as I mentioned before, cockpit lights should be kept low and flashlights should be equipped with red filters to maintain the dark adaption needed to see clearly outside the cockpit.


Pilots sometimes refer to disorientation as “vertigo”, by which they mean not knowing which way is up. On the ground spatial orientation is sensed by the combination of vision, muscle sense (seat of the pants), and specialized organs in the inner ear which sense linear and angular accelerations. Vision is the strongest of the orientating senses, but, in a whiteout or flying in cloud, it is sometimes impossible to orient oneself by reference to the horizon. Under these conditions the pilot is completely dependent on the instruments and learned flying skills for control of the aircraft. Under no circumstances should the pilot rely upon the ‘seat of the pants’ sensations! Although the organs of the inner ear give useful information with regards to acceleration or turning, they can also give rise to dangerously false information. RELY UPON YOUR FLIGHT INSTRUMENTS!

Pilots without instrument flight training must maintain a visual horizon at all times and should never flight plan VFR into areas where bad weather or low visibility may be encountered. An instrument rating does not prevent disorientation but the training required to obtain the rating provides the pilot with the ability to overcome it.


Before we set out on a flight we need to ask ourselves some questions.

  • Do I feel well and rested?
  • Am I on any medication?
  • When did I last drink alcohol?
  • Am I stressed?
  • Have I had enough to eat?
  • Am I hydrated?
  • Am I under any pressure to get to my destination?
  • Do I have VFR weather for this entire flight?
  • Am I current on this aircraft?
  • Did I carry out a complete walkaround?
  • Do I have enough fuel?
  • Am I letting the adrenaline of the tasking affect my decision?

These are some of the questions we could ask ourselves and if you can tick of everything as good then you’re ready to fly!!

I thought it would help to re-enforce some of this information by citing the example of John F Kennedy Jr.’s tragic flight in 1999, where as often happens, it is not just one factor that contributes to an accident but a combination of several factors.

Listen to an ELT/EPIRB

CARES Niagara

An Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) and an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) are carried aboard aircraft and marine vessels. During a distress situation these devices can be activated (sometimes automatically) and assist Search and Rescue (SAR) personnel to locate the position of the distress. It is possible for the received ELT signal to sound different from search to search. Listen to the three (3) audio files of actual ELT transmissions below:

Emergency Locator Transmitter (35 KB)

Emergency Locator Transmitter (46 KB)

Emergency Locator Transmitter (32 KB)

Phonetic Alphabeth

The Phonetic Alphabet is recognised worldwide for radio communications. It is vital that important information is sent and received accurately, and using the Phonetic Alphabet makes this process much easier:

Phonetic Alphabet
Alpha Kilo Uniform 0 Zero
Bravo Lima Victor 1 Wun
Charlie Mike Whiskey 2 Too
Delta November Xray 3 Tree
Echo Oscar Yankee 4 Fower
Foxtrot Papa Zulu 5 Fife
Golf Quebec 6 Six
Hotel Romeo . Decimal 7 Seven
India Sierra . Stop 8 Ait
Juliet Tango 9 Niner
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