Deciding on a plan of action is step #5 in “Steps to take after an accident or breakdown in the wilderness.”
First of all, you should decide whether to stay where you are or try to travel by foot to find help.
Survival Tip: The golden rule for survival situations in a remote
area after an aircraft accident is:
Stay with the wreckage!
This can be applied to vehicles as well, depending on the situation. The reasons are as follows:
a. Search, and Rescue will probably be on their way soon, and they likely have a good idea of where you (the wreckage) are or should be.
b. The ELT (Emergency Locator Transmitter), which all passenger aircraft should have on board, should be sending out a distress signal after impact, and Search and Rescue can home-in on that signal. Also, since February 1, 2009, a new ELT system has been available (working on 406 MHz instead of 121.5 MHz) that also sends Search and Rescue your exact location in latitude and longitude (if your aircraft ELT has been updated).
c. It is much easier finding wreckage than a person from the air.
d. There are other advantages, like possibly using the wreckage as a shelter.
It is not always ideal to stay with the wreckage in every single situation. So use your best survival tool to make your final decision: Common sense.
Traveling in the Wild
Wilderness survival travel
If you decide to leave the crash scene, try to leave a note behind so that if someone finds it, they know where you have gone. Also, leave a trail to make it easy for them to follow you if they get your message. This would obviously not be applicable if you wanted to prevent someone from finding you; maybe because you were in hostile territory (or owed someone lots of money and ran off with their girlfriend).
Don’t just start walking and assume you are heading in your intended direction. Experience has shown that many people end up walking in a vast circle without knowing it, especially if there are not many landmarks. There are several reasons for this. This may surprise you, but one reason is the fact that many people have one leg slightly shorter than the other, even though it is so slight that they may never become aware of it. But, it may well be enough to cause your walking track to go in a vast circle. So before going anywhere, first establish where North is, and in which direction you need to travel.
To figure out your direction without a compass, the most fundamental principle is that if you are in the northern hemisphere, the sun will be in the southeast at mid morning, making your shadow point northwest, and be in the southwest in the afternoon, making your shadow point north-east. In the southern hemisphere, the sun will be in the north-east at mid morning, making your shadow point southwest. A more sophisticated method for using the sun is as follows: Use your watch. If it is not the old type with two hands, imagine where the hands will be right now. Point the hour hand directly at the sun and then bisect the angle between the hour hand and twelve o’clock. This imaginary line will run north/south.
At night in the Northern hemisphere, study up on how to identify the Pole Star for North. As a starting point, find the Big Dipper constellation. The pole star will be located off of the top of the “dipper,” on the opposite side of the handle. Face the pole star, and you will be facing north. In the southern hemisphere, use the Southern Cross. Extend the long axis of the Cross down from the bottom star by 4½ times its length. Then drop a vertical line straight down to the horizon. This will be south.
Another hint for finding direction: when there is moss on trees there will usually be a lot more on the shady side than on the sunny side, which gets dried out by the sun. So even if it is cloudy, in the northern hemisphere, the most Moss will be on the north side of the tree (all other factors being equal).
Once you know in which direction you need to travel, don’t just start walking. Pick a landmark on the horizon and make sure you are always heading for it. If you are surrounded by hills or high trees, you will have to choose much closer points, then refer back to where you came from and made sure your track is straight.
In cold winter climates, use animal trails to help you avoid walking in the deep snow. Frozen streams and rivers are also easy to follow, but watch for thin ice!
If you get lost, stay where you are. Carefully assess the situation. Do not use precious energy by wandering. Build a fire and shelter if necessary. It’s good to “blaze” your trail as you travel so that rescue teams will find it easier to follow you and so that you can find your way back if you get lost. This can be done as easily as just bending (permanently, by slightly breaking) the tips of branches along your pathway.
If there are wild animals around, or even the possibility of snakes, it is usually best to make a lot of noise while you walk. This may surprise you, but humans are not on the menu for most animals on the planet. (Please don’t feel offended.) This means you have more chance of scaring animals away than attracting them. This doesn’t apply to insects, of course, which sees us in the same way that we see prime beef, lobster, and chocolate cake!
The reason for most animal attacks in the wild is either because they get frightened, because they were maybe sleeping and didn’t hear you coming (especially true for snakes), or you are threatening their safety or that of their young in some way. Letting them hear you coming usually prevent these situations. Even small animals and birds can become extremely brave and hostile if you threaten the safety of their young or their unborn (unlike many humans). I once experienced birds during the breeding season that would attack me on the back of my head when I walked through a park every morning on my way to work!
If your original voyage was into an area of known dangerous animals or hostile territory, hopefully, you brought along at least one self-defense weapon.
Bears can be quite a challenge if they are hungry. But they are normally after the food in your hand or your bag and not after you; however, they can kill you in the process of obtaining that food. So if you are in an area that may have bears, be extremely careful, and tightly package and stow out of sight any food you have or garbage that might be nearby. Also, do yourself a big favor and read up on bears before going into such an area. Don’t try the trick that Anthony Hopkins demonstrated in the movie The Edge, where he kills a grizzly bear by letting it fall onto himself and a sharpened log that he was holding! (Call me if you ARE going to try it. I want to bring my camera.)