Reduced to its essence, having the gear for post-crash survival is great; being found quickly is even better. The faster you and your passengers are found, the greater the chance of survival. Improving the odds starts before departure and means making sure someone knows where you are going. Being on an IFR flight plan has historically meant the least delay in post-crash rescue. Next best is being on a VFR flight plan or making sure someone is in position to start search and rescue (SAR) if you dont show up when expected.
The next step is to be able to effectively signal potential rescuers. Carry a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)-the device that revolutionized SAR by not only announcing that you are in trouble, it guides rescuers right to you. We feel that every pilot should have a PLB on their person during every flight. Well cover PLBs in a future issue of Aviation Consumer.
Because signaling forms the basis of getting rescued, we think a survival kit should include a signaling mirror that can be aimed, such as the Rescue Flash-less than $10. It should also have a whistle-its easier than shouting and the good ones can be heard for a mile. In the good-to-have department is a laser flare; it can be seen for over 20 miles at night. However, they start at just over $100 for a red one-figure on $300 for the better version, which is green.
Once signaling is covered, its surviving until help arrives (stay with the aircraft). A person can theoretically survive with a good knife (figure on at least $100 for one you can bet your life on and can be operated with one hand-you may not have two available) and a way to start a fire (waterproof matches at the very least). However, doing so requires training and a lot of work. Having additional equipment ups the odds. The next priorities for the survival kit are first aid, fire, shelter, water and food. Because most of us cant afford the perfect survival kit, and weight is a consideration, we think aviation survival kits should focus most on signaling, first aid, fire and shelter.
What you pick depends on the type of flying you do. At a bare minimum for pilots who dont fly over remote areas or large quantities of water, we recommend every pilot carry a PLB, good knife, signaling mirror and top-quality pocket survival kit on his or her person. If your flying is regularly over remote areas, peace of mind for you and your passengers may require a more sophisticated kit.
If you do have to put an airplane down in the boonies, youre having one of those low-probability, really bad days. Because things are already going wrong, theres a good chance that you wont be able to get to the survival kit after the crash-its buried under heavy wreckage, burned up or you cant ambulate-so we recommend that your survival kit be in a vest you wear while flying.