What to do when you’re lost while flying

June, 26, 2021 by

The age-old problem that always presents itself, from ancient mariners to modern-day aviators, has been finding the way. The world’s too large to be able to know every single bit of it.

From using the stars to using satellites, we’ve come quite a long way. Moving maps, snazzy radios, iPad charts, handheld GPS units…a lot of pilots have a lot of hi-tech resources nowadays to help them find their way through the skies.

But there are times when maybe you’re flying an older aircraft without any of these up-to-date fancy navigational aids. Or (if you’re extremely unlucky) your equipment just gives up on you. And let’s just say you’re over the coast, on a new moon night, so it’s pitch-black outside. A chilling realisation trembles down your spine: you’re lost.

But hang on.

There’s a saying in aviation: you’re never truly lost – only momentarily misplaced. There’s always a way to find your way. And, like most things in aviation, there’s a procedure to follow. This ‘lost’ procedure is called the Five C’s. And here they are:

  1. Confess. Own up to the fact that you’ve misplaced yourself and your aircraft. Accept that fact, and move on to the next step instead of blundering around trying to find your way.

  2. Climb. A rather standard rule in aviation is that altitude is your friend. The higher you are, the further you are away from dying in a fiery inferno on the ground. Sounds ironic? Well, an airplane can glide much further if it’s higher. Just saying. And you can see much more from higher above.

  3. Conserve. We’re talking fuel here. You don’t want to be flying at high-power settings and burning through all your fuel. Take it easy, fly slower if you have to, but save your fuel. You’ll need every drop of it.

  4. Communicate. Find yourself someone to talk to, who can help you out. If all else fails, the international distress frequency setting of 121.5 MHz (also known as the Guard frequency) is open for you. There are many who feel that declaring an emergency is overkill or embarrassing. In reality, most of the time, it could be the difference between life and death. Most definitely so in this situation. Communicate and tell people that you’re lost.

  5. Comply. Once you’ve gotten in touch with someone who can help you, follow their instructions without worrying about any consequences.

Let’s face it: in life, we’ve all felt lost in various situations at various points in time. But if we remember the fact that we’re only momentarily misplaced, then we can wrap our heads around following those Five C’s that can bring us to a place where we can go ahead on our own with confidence.

Firstly, admit and accept the fact that you’re momentarily misplaced. Not lost, mind you. Momentarily misplaced.

Next, try and move to a space that you consider safe and also try looking at things from a different perspective – maybe a bigger picture if you’ve been focusing on too many details, or maybe a detailed picture if you’ve only had a general idea.

Then, take stock of and decide how you’re going to use your resources wisely. Know what you have to help you, know how long it’ll last and know how and where to use your resources.

And then, ask for help. Communicate with others who can help you, who support you and who want to see you back on track again. And here’s the thing: don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. It’s not overkill, and is in fact essential to help you find your way again. And finally, using all the help you can get, along with your own good sense, skills and resources, get yourself to a place from where you can continue your journey of life on your own.

Just because you’re lost, doesn’t mean you can’t find your way again. And you never know: you might just discover a new path (or two) along the way, and hey, you’re now a discoverer! But that’s a lesson for another time.

Sooraj Bishnoi is a contributor for the IFATC Education Group. He is a music producer and singer-songwriter by profession, and is also a real-world pilot. He holds a multi-engine commercial pilot certificate, as well as an advanced and instrument ground instructor rating, and is keen on learning and helping others learn from his real-world and virtual experiences.