P. Edronkin

Ditching In A Place Like Greenland

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Recently I was looking at some pictures taking by some pilots as they flew in a single-engine reciprocating aircraft over Greenland; they were in fact, crossing the north Atlantic with their little flying machine and one could see in those images a coast filled with glaciers pouring into the sea and littering it with small pieces of ice, and full-sized icebergs as well that were being taken into the deep sea buy the winds and currents.

Looking at those pictures I did not see immediately a beautiful landscape, but as a pilot and mountain climber, I saw danger in two main forms, in the case that one, flying over such a region would have to ditch an aircraft it the cold water.

The chances of survival in such a scenario are rather low for various reasons, in regions where ice pours into waters, such as in the far north, in Russia, Cadada, Alaska, Iceland, the Scandinavian Peninsula, and Greenland; and in the far south, in Araucania, Patagonia and Antarctica. All these regions have coastal and lacustre areas littered with icebergs coming from glaciers of all sizes and are undoubtedly very cold. So, water temperature is a problem, of course: you will probably not survive more than ten minutes in such waters without special thermal protection. You cannot expect anything else in a place like Greenland.

But even ditching becomes a bigger problem than it is: usually, ditching an aircraft is per se a major problem, but if you take into account that even at very low speeds, almost stalling, aircraft carry a lot of kinetic energy, then those icebergs begin to look like really hard stones thrown in your way. This problem should - in my view - be anticipated by any pilot trying to fly thorough a place like Greenland even before taking off, and its consideration should for part of every emergency list.

Plus, the difficulties of search, localisation and rescue should also be taken into account: it is difficult to detect a person floating even in calm, flat seas while looking from a ship or a SAR aircraft. How difficult would that be if the waters around the crash site were littered with bits of ice?

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