Into the Wild
How to survive after a crash
BY GREG LASLO
THERE COMES A TIME in each of our lives when we stop and wonder,
“What would Bear Grylls do?”
Maybe you’ve never heard of this reality TV survival expert, but
in the unlikely event you’re in an actual survival situation—say, after
you crash-land in the wintry north woods of Wisconsin—you may
wish you had. After all, Man vs. Wild takes on a whole different
meaning when you’re the former who’s stuck in the latter.
Would you be prepared?
Instead of suggesting you scavenge beaver tail, swaddle yourself
in a deer pelt, or make a fire with moose droppings, as our television
hero invariably would, we sought some real-world advice from
experts—Lt. Derek Ham, Brett Stoffel, and Roger Storey—on how to
manage the challenge of survival in rugged surroundings. It’s about
being prepared—and being patient.
Survival is about planning, and it starts with recognizing you might
one day find yourself in an unanticipated situation, Roger said.
Consider what kind of flying you do, the terrain you fly over, and
what you might land in; that determines what goes into your survival
kit. Or kits. You can carry an airplane full of gear, but you should also
have the essentials in your pocket, a mesh survival vest, or a go-bag
on the seat next to you. That may be all you
have if your aircraft catches fire after a crash
landing. Be prepared to grab it and get out.
Your most imminent needs require tools
to complete three tasks: Acquire shelter,
start a fire, and signal for help, Brett said.
Shelter should protect you from hypothermia, and a cheap tube tent, waterproof parka
and pants, or heavyweight plastic garbage
bag worn like a pullover will keep cold, rain,
and wind away for now. You can erect a tent,
brush-pile lean-to, or snow cave later.
A fire not only is a mental boost but also
keeps you warm and limber, melts snow for
water, and dries your wet gear. Instead of
matches or lighters, choose a flint striker, or
even two batteries and steel wool. They’ll
work in any condition, including high altitude, cold, and monsoon rains. For tinder,
pack a pill bottle with cotton balls coated in
either Vaseline or ChapStick, Roger said.
Practice using these; there’s some trial and
error, so hone the skill before you need it. In
fact, consider a full-on survival course—and
a first-aid course, too.
As for signaling, you can’t have too many
methods; 406 MHz emergency locator
transmitters (ELTs) and personal locator
beacons (PLBs) can get you found within
hours, but don’t forget your glass signal mirror, LED flashlight, chemical light sticks,
rescue whistle, flares, and colored tarp—
“discount store blue” is a hue unlike
anything in nature, so it’s easily spotted. All
of these make you easier to locate, which is
PREPARE TO WAIT
If it takes rescuers a while to reach you—
realistically, it may take two or three
days—you’ll want water or a means to procure it. Full jugs or survival hydration packs
help if you can’t get out of the aircraft, and
sandwich bags or collapsible canteens can
be dipped into water sources. Water filters
or iodine tablets won’t hurt, either. Take
food, if you want. You won’t starve in a couple of days, but it’s nice to have something to
eat for comfort.
A first-aid kit will help you manage injuries and pain, but keep it simple and light.
Personalize it with any medicines you take
regularly—refresh them monthly—and a set
of glasses in a hard case if you need them to
function. And don’t forget sunscreen.