I send my four children a letter each month which includes a personal story from my days in the military. This is one of those stories.
When I was in helicopter flight school, we had to memorize emergency procedures for our helicopters. In fact, during my entire career as a pilot, we had to continue to refresh our knowledge of emergency procedures and keep them memorized. We memorized the procedures that we as pilots needed to do for all sorts of emergencies: engine failures, hydraulics failures, electrical failures, tail rotor failure. You probably get the picture with the word ‘failure’ being the key. When you’re flying an aircraft with thousands of moving parts, you can pretty much bet if something can go wrong, it eventually will. That’s where our memorized emergency procedures came in handy. During the crisis of an emergency, our brain takes time to react. Having an emergency procedure memorized (and practiced) allows the pilot’s body to react quickly to a problem in an efficient way.
I remember one time in flight school we were in a class on emergency procedures where an old instructor pilot was answering questions from the pilots in training. We were discussing the emergency procedures for an engine failure. Now when you’re in a helicopter which doesn’t want to fly in the first place, it’s very important to know what to do when the engine fails. The old instructor pilot had covered the standard emergency procedures for an engine failure, and he was allowing us flight students to ask ‘what if’ questions. One of our flight students got in the following exchange with our instructor:
Student: What if our engine failure happens at night? What do we do?
Instructor: You do the same emergency procedure as you would do for the day, except when you get to 100 feet or so above the ground, you’d turn on your searchlight and use it to pick out your landing spot.
Student: What if we’re in the mountains when our engine fails, and all we see with our searchlight is rocky, uneven ground that the helicopter can’t land on?
Instructor: (After pausing for a second and giving a slight smile.) That’s easy. If you’re flying in the mountains at night and have an engine failure, and if when you turn your searchlight on you don’t like what you see, just turn the light off. (Our class cracked up laughing.)
Moral of the Story: Obviously, as I hope you know, the moral of the story is NOT to turn your searchlight off if you don’t like what you see. The moral of the story is that sometimes things go wrong. You need to prepare for things to go wrong as best you can to alleviate risk. Of course, you can’t prepare for everything, and sometimes, even the best-laid backup plans won’t help you. BUT…, having backup plans (i.e. emergency procedures) certainly increases your odds of coming out of a bad situation in one piece.
SO…, what do you do if you turn your ‘searchlight’ on, and you don’t like what you see? Well, the answer isn’t to turn your searchlight off. You leave it on and try to gather all the information you can in whatever time you have, and then you use that knowledge to do your best to get through the situation. You’d be surprised how many people have survived ‘impossible’ situations just because they never gave up. They kept fighting and struggling as long as they had breath in their bodies. Never give up; even if a searchlight tells you it’s impossible.