ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) — With its vast swaths of wilderness, mountain ranges and often unpredictable weather, Alaska can be a treacherous air space for aviators.
“Aviation in Alaska, obviously, there are some challenges that maybe the rest of the Lower 48 doesn’t have,” NTSB regional chief Clint Johnson told Channel 2.
“Mountainous terrain, inclement weather conditions, both of those combined together make it much more challenging in Alaska.”
Pilots are required under state statute to carry a minimum amount of survival gear, but many will opt to carry more equipment and rations just in case. Shane Langland is the president of Eagle Enterprises, a business that, among other things, provides pilots with some of this crucial equipment.
“We see the commercial pilots, the private pilots, the student pilots, they’re very proactive,” Langland said. “We’ve got a great culture of safety in our commercial carriers and our private aviation folks, and we’re very fortunate for that in Alaska.”
Here’s what’s required under state statute:
AS 02.35.110. Emergency Rations and Equipment:
(a) An airman may not make a flight inside the state with an aircraft unless emergency equipment is carried as follows:
(1) the following minimum equipment must be carried during the summer months:
(A) rations for each occupant sufficient to sustain life for one week;
(B) one axe or hatchet;
(C) one first aid kit;
(D) an assortment of tackle such as hooks, flies, lines, and sinkers;
(E) one knife;
(F) fire starter;
(G) one mosquito headnet for each occupant;
(H) two small signaling devices such as colored smoke bombs, railroad fuses, or Very pistol shells, in sealed metal containers;
(2) in addition to the equipment required under (1) of this subsection, the following must be carried as minimum equipment from October 15 to April 1 of each year:
(A) one pair of snowshoes;
(B) one sleeping bag;
(C) one wool blanket or equivalent for each occupant over four.
(b) However, operators of multi-engine aircraft licensed to carry more than 15 passengers need carry only the food, mosquito nets, and signalling equipment at all times other than the period from October 15 to April 1 of each year, when two sleeping bags, and one blanket for every two passengers shall also be carried. All of the above requirements as to emergency rations and equipment are considered to be minimum requirements which are to remain in full force and effect, except as further safety measures may be from time to time imposed by the department.
In addition to those items, Eagle Enterprises recommends pilots carry three different ways of starting a fire, as well as multiple ways of signaling rescuers such as a strobe light and flare. But the one thing you should never fly without is a Personal Locator Beacon, or PLB.
“In today’s world, probably the most critical bit of equipment is your personal locator beacon, because that takes the search out of search and rescue,” Langland said.
Every aircraft is required by the FAA to have a built-in emergency locator system, but PLB’s have some additional advantages. Some modern PLB’s can show your location to rescuers within a radius as small as 10 feet. They’re also often small enough to fit in a pocket, and Langland recommends keeping all your survival gear on your person, using a life vest or something similar.
“Bush pilots that have been flying around here since the 40s will say ‘If it’s not on you, it’s camping gear. If it’s on you it’s survival gear.’”
But finding the right survival gear isn’t just about checking off the items on a list, Langland says. It’s about finding the gear that you are comfortable with using.
“Everything I’m going to put on my person is something I’ll be very comfortable with using, I don’t have to think about it,” he says. “Whatever I use, it matters to me.”