Airplane off runway
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There was an episode on TV some years back in which a woman survived a plane crash on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California. She walked down the mountain alone. Almost. Except, of course, for that hallucinatory mountain man who ogled her from behind trees and bushes, constantly leering at her, all the way down.

As I lurch around the house on my walker, recovering from that most brutal of contemporary surgeries, total knee replacement, many of the surgically oriented household reorganizations I implemented have served me well, but some not nearly so much. Best intentions aside, I had no concept of how I would be limited by continuous high pain levels, needing two hands on the walker, inability to find things in the fridge–you get the idea.

That raises the point for discussion:  When pilots plan their survival gear, are they planning realistically for worst case or near worst case scenarios? Sure, the popular mythology is that after the crash, the pilot comes to, splints his arm–it was really only a scratch–pitches tent and cooks dinner. Next morning, after eight inches of fresh snow, rescuers arriving at first light are greeted with a fresh pot of coffee.

Or might it be the case that the pilot–you, for example—has mental and cognitive skills degraded by pain after the crash? And maybe all those survival tools and toys that were so appealing and easy to evaluate on a bright Saturday morning are in the moment hard to use, hard to get open from the packaging, or even forgotten?

Airplane off runway

It’s possible hose survival tools will be hard to use following a crash.

The late Richard McSpadden said that if it is on your body, it’s survival gear. If it’s in the airplane, it’s camping gear.

(I have not reviewed any commercially available survival gear kits, so these comments should not be taken as a critique of any one offering.)

The rest of my recovery is still in the days ahead. As this article is written, I’m on day 10 post-surgery. Everybody recovers differently, but it appears that I’m emerging from the brutality of the surgical pain per se. Physical therapy (PT) pain is on short final.

Next time my 75 year old body tries to tell me that it is really 45 or 55, I will tell it to shut up. Finally.

When the time comes, maybe at the seven week graduation from PT point, I will go out to the airport for a no-holds-barred flight review, focusing on cognitive skills, situational awareness, and full flight envelope, not maneuvers. With 1,000+ hours in Cessna 172’s among my 3,900 hours, basic flying skills are unlikely to be an issue. But 10 years ago, following an eight month recovery from spinal fusion surgery, that flight review was fine until the first unusual attitude, where I became overwhelmed. The second one was just fine, however. Afterwards, it will be time to go back into the RV-9A with its IFR avionics.

Upcoming decision:  fly to Oshkosh and have a great time? Or stop only at airports with full service fuel, fly fewer hours of the day, and more vigorously preserve energy? Airlines? Or, hope not, sell the RV-9A and be grateful for 50 years of flying…

This event is my flying career’s third, multi-month surgically induced interruption. I’ve tried to follow the slogan, don’t waste your pain, meaning, learn what lessons God might be frantically trying to teach you now that the distractions of everyday life are out of the way. This time, I learned the lesson, and it was all about receiving God’s love, through friends at church and in the neighborhood, and through new friends at the PT clinic.

I am and have been richly blessed. I pray such blessings for all y’all.

Author’s Note:  also see

Ed Wischmeyer
Latest posts by Ed Wischmeyer (see all)
5 replies
  1. David G
    David G says:

    Being a pilot for over 50 year, yes I am that old! I would suggest you practice your survival skills. Go out skiing or snow shoeing and practice making a fire in the snow. Set up a survival tent out of a Mylar blanket. Make an igloo. Or even better, do what I had to before I became a patroller for back county winter search at rescue. Spend the night out at 10000 ft in January with only the contents of a small daypack. Yes it is doable and may save your life!

  2. dan
    dan says:

    Lots of truth in your observations on survival gear. Had an acquaintance suffer a broken right arm (dominant) during an extended solo hike in Colorado. He couldn’t even open his multi-tool. His shelter was a lightweight tent which was finally erected but with much difficulty. Splinting the fracture was a chore, but he had included several lengths of velcro in the pack which allowed him to accomplish the task. He was fortunate in finding appropriate sticks rather than having to saw through branches.

  3. David B
    David B says:

    Very timely for me. I was about 4 months into a 5 month panel rehabilitation and avionics upgrade (along with exterior lighting, antennas and 100% circuit breaker replacements when I broke my knee. The trip to Italy was canceled, and my plans to finish the project before leaving for the summer cabin were dashed. When I get home, and finish the airplane alterations, I will be 11 months out of flying, with strange equipment and a stranger layout.

    You bet I’m completing a flight review and multi flight effort with a knowledgeable flight instructor.

  4. Richard Hrezo
    Richard Hrezo says:

    Good article. I don’t ever fly the mountains without survival gear. As a side note, I’ve done anesthesia for hundreds of knee replacements and had both myself- sorry you found it so brutal, it shouldn’t be so bad!

  5. Gregg Bisset
    Gregg Bisset says:

    Broke a couple of ribs in a accident fortunately. During the scans for internal injuries found I had bicuspid heart valve and aneurysm. All bits replaced and 3 months into recovery. All’s good but I am wondering whether I will fly again lost a bit of confidence in my body. BFR due. Mmm


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