Engstrom, Aviation Writer and IFA Member
Bob Meyers, a retired United
Airlines captain, tells a harrowing story about the time he became ill
while piloting a small airplane alone in California's Central Valley
many years ago.
At first, he dismissed the cramps,
nausea, and weakness as a minor inconvenience. But as the symptoms got
worse, Meyers began to doubt he could continue flying.
He did manage to land safely at
his destination'fortunately, it wasn't far away. When the plane came
to a stop, though, he literally tumbled out of the cockpit in agony.
Medical help was summoned.
The culprit, Meyers later
discovered: a black widow spider bite.
Illness comes in all shapes and
sizes'from relatively minor ailments (motion sickness, headache,
gastrointestinal discomfort) to life-threatening conditions (stroke,
heart attack, hypoxia). What to do when you, the pilot, or one of your
passengers gets sick in-flight?
It's something that receives
little if any attention during flight training for private pilots.
You can't anticipate every
possible kind of medical emergency, of course. And even if you're a
doctor who's piloting an aircraft, there's still that primary
responsibility when an emergency'medical or otherwise'arises: flying
But Joel Stoller, a DC-9 captain
and part-time flight instructor, and other experts cite these
important considerations when humanware, rather than hardware, fails
- Quickly acknowledge there's a
medical problem, as that will give you more time to take appropriate
Locate the nearest airport and
Declare an emergency. Air
traffic controllers can direct you to the closest airport and
arrange for medical assistance to meet you on the ground.
Enlist the help of passengers'to
administer supplemental oxygen or other first aid, or to comfort or
restrain the one who's ill'so you can focus on landing the aircraft
Remember, prevention is still your
best friend. You can preclude some en-route medical emergencies by
adhering to the I'M SAFE rule'no illness, medication, stress, alcohol,
fatigue, or emotion.
In other words, before the flight
even begins, doubly ensure that everyone on board is fit to fly.
When he isn't flying, Paul Engstrom writes and
edits from Sebastopol, Calif.
The information contained herein is meant for
informational purposes only. Neither IFA, nor Paul Engstrom assume any
responsibility or liability for events that occur due to actions you
or others on your behalf take based on the information given in this
article. You are proceeding at your own risk. It is strongly advised
that you seek the opinion and advice of a qualified aviation medical
examiner and appropriate medical physician for any medical needs you