Emergency Procedures (Part Three)

Maintaining Aircraft Control

Once the crewmembers recognize the situation, they commit to controlling the aircraft by using and trusting flight instruments. Attempting to search outside the flight deck for visual confirmation can result in spatial disorientation and complete loss of control. The crew must rely on instruments and depend on crew coordination to facilitate that transition. The pilot or flight crew must abandon their efforts to establish visual references and fly the aircraft by their flight instruments.


The most important concern, along with maintaining aircraft control, is to initiate a climb immediately. An immediate climb provides a greater separation from natural and manmade obstacles, as well as improve radar reception of the aircraft by ATC. An immediate climb should be appropriate for the current conditions, environment, and known or perceived obstacles. Listed below are procedures that can assist in maintaining aircraft control after encountering IIMC with the most critical action being to immediately announce IIMC and begin a substantial climb while procedures are being performed. These procedures are performed nearly simultaneously:

  • Attitude—level wings on the attitude indicator.
  • Heading—maintain heading; turn only to avoid known obstacles.
  • Power—adjust power as necessary for desired climb rate.
  • Airspeed—adjust airspeed as necessary. Complete the IIMC recovery according to local and published regulations and policies.

In situations where the pilot encounters IIMC while conducting an instrument maneuver, the best remedy is immediate execution of the published missed approach.

The pilot must trust the flight instruments concerning the aircraft’s attitude regardless of intuition or visual interpretation. The vestibular sense (motion sensing by the inner ear) can confuse the pilot. Because of inertia, sensory areas of the inner ear cannot detect slight changes in aircraft attitude nor can they accurately sense attitude changes that occur at a uniform rate over time. Conversely, false sensations often push the pilot to believe that the attitude of the aircraft has changed when in fact it has not, resulting in spatial disorientation.

ATC Requirements During an In-Flight Emergency

ATC personnel can help pilots during in-flight emergency situations. Pilots should understand the services provided by ATC and the resources and options available. These services enable pilots to focus on aircraft control and help them make better decisions in a time of stress.


Provide Information

During emergency situations, pilots should provide as much information as possible to ATC. ATC uses the information to determine what kind of assistance it can provide with available assets and capabilities. Information requirements vary depending on the existing situation. ATC requires at a minimum, the following information for in-flight emergencies:

  • Aircraft identification and type
  • Nature of the emergency
  • Pilot’s desires

If time and the situation permits, the pilot should provide ATC with more information. Listed below is additional information that would help ATC in further assisting the pilot during an emergency situation.

  • Aircraft altitude
  • Point of departure and destination
  • Airspeed
  • Fuel remaining in time
  • Heading since last known position
  • Visible landmarks
  • Navigational aids (NAVAID) signals received
  • Time and place of last known position
  • Aircraft color
  • Pilot reported weather
  • Emergency equipment on board
  • Number of people on board
  • Pilot capability for IFR flight
  • Navigation equipment capability

When the pilot requests, or when deemed necessary, ATC can enlist services of available radar facilities and DF facilities operated by the FAA. ATC can also coordinate with other agencies, such as the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and other local authorities and request their emergency services.

Radar Assistance

Radar is an invaluable asset that can be used by pilots during emergencies. With radar, ATC can provide navigation assistance to aircraft and provide last-known location during catastrophic emergencies. If a VFR aircraft encounters or is about to encounter IMC weather conditions, the pilot can request radar vectors to VFR airports or VFR conditions. If the pilot determines that he or she is qualified and the aircraft is capable of conducting IFR flight, the pilot should file an IFR flight plan and request a clearance from ATC to the destination airport as appropriate. If the aircraft has already encountered IFR conditions, ATC can inform the pilot of appropriate terrain/obstacle clearance minimum altitude. If the aircraft is below appropriate terrain/obstacle clearance minimum altitude and sufficiently accurate position information has been received or radar identification is established, ATC can furnish a heading or radial on which to climb to reach appropriate terrain/ obstacle clearance minimum altitude.

Emergency Airports

ATC personnel consider how much remaining fuel in relation to the distance to the airport and weather conditions when recommending an emergency airport to aircraft requiring assistance. Depending on the nature of the emergency, certain weather phenomena may deserve weighted consideration. A pilot may elect to fly further to land at an airport with VFR conditions instead of closer airfield with IFR conditions. Other considerations are airport conditions, NAVAID status, aircraft type, pilot’s qualifications, and vectoring or homing capability to the emergency airport. In addition, ATC and pilots should determine which guidance can be used to fly to the emergency airport. The following options may be available:

  • Radar
  • DF
  • Following another aircraft
  • Pilotage by landmarks
  • Compass headings

Emergency Obstruction Video Map (EOVM)

The emergency obstruction video map (EOVM) is intended to facilitate advisory service in an emergency situation when appropriate terrain/obstacle clearance minimum altitude cannot be maintained. The EOVM, and the service provided, are used only under the following conditions:

  1. The pilot has declared an emergency.
  2. The controller has determined an emergency condition exists or is imminent because of the pilots inability to maintain an appropriate terrain/obstacle clearance minimum altitude.

Note: Appropriate terrain/obstacle clearance minimum altitudes may be defined as minimum IFR altitude (MIA), minimum en route altitude (MEA), minimum obstacle clearance altitude (MOCA), or minimum vectoring altitude (MVA).

When providing emergency vectoring service, the controller advises the pilot that any headings issued are emergency advisories intended only to direct the aircraft toward and over an area of lower terrain/obstacle elevation. Altitudes and obstructions depicted on the EOVM are actual altitudes and locations of the obstacle/terrain and contain no lateral or vertical buffers for obstruction clearance.


ATC, in communication with an aircraft in distress, should handle the emergency and coordinate and direct the activities of assisting facilities. ATC will not transfer this responsibility to another facility unless that facility can better handle the situation. When an ATC facility receives information about an aircraft in distress, they forward detailed data to the center in the area of the emergency. Centers serve as central points for collecting information, coordinating with search and rescue (SAR) and distributing information to appropriate agencies.

Although 121.5 megahertz and 243.0 megahertz are emergency frequencies, the pilot should keep the aircraft on the initial contact frequency. The pilot should change frequencies only when a valid reason exists. When necessary, and if weather and circumstances permit, ATC should recommend that aircraft maintain or increase altitude to improve communications, radar, or DF reception.


An escort aircraft, if available, should consider and evaluate an appropriate formation. Special consideration must be given if maneuvers take the aircraft through clouds. Aircraft should not execute an in-flight join up during emergency conditions unless both crews involved are familiar with and capable of formation flight and can communicate and have visual contact with each other.