“A little bit of survival knowledge goes a long way. Even if you don’t think you’ll ever need it. A plane trip is one time you’d think you’d be safe. If it crashes in the wilderness and you survive, being able to start a fire, build a shelter, and forage food will keep you alive until help comes. Read on for just that sort of scenario.”
It was the moment all pilot’s dread. Nigel, a pilot the thirty years, had decided to take his children for a flight in his Cirrus single-propeller plane as a weekend treat. The day was clear and sunny when he took off. Over the forest, it all changed. The Cirrus flew into an incessant bank of rain and slammed about in the turbulence. Rain water choked the engine and it stalled above the forest.
Nigel awoke hung over the planes control panel. Vivid memories of trying to restart and level the plane flashed through his mind. He saw the Cirrus tumbling through the tree canopy like an out of control circular saw with wings. His back reminded him of the juddering impact as he strained and flopped back into his seat. The aviation controls were dead, the plane had no transponder or black-box to alert air traffic control to the location of the plane. Realising he had to save himself and his children, he began wrestling with his seat harness. “Josie, Jarrod are you both okay?”
“Daddy, what happened? My chest hurts. Jarrod’s not conscious.” Josie replied from the two rear seats.
“Okay, Sweetie. Daddy’s, coming,” Nigel swore at his stuck belt clasp. Reaching for the knife on his belt, he cut himself free and clambered out of the cockpit. He was bleeding from a few places and hurting all over but he ignored the lot to save his children. The rear of the plane was missing part of its roof and a gaping hole in the left side showed that wing was missing. The floor was strewn with leaves and branches amid the children’s rucksacks and a whole lot of spilt milkshake. Still, incessant rain thundered upon the remains of the plane as he climbed through to reach his children. Josie was twelve and Jarrod eight. Nigel had sent them to the rear seats when he realised they were in trouble before the crash. He knew the rear of the plane was the safest place during a crash landing.
“Daddy, I think Jarrod’s head hit the wall of the plane.” Josie in her favourite denim skater dress and flip-flops, was out of her seat and kneeling beside her brother. She’d gotten him into the recovery position beside a pool of water.
Nigel threw a branch askance and hugged her. He could see she had bruising to her shoulders and chest from her seat harness. “I’m so sorry we crashed, Sweetie. You’re doing great looking after your brother.” Kneeling beside Jarrod, he felt the great onus upon himself to see both his children to safety. “Jarrod’s suffered quite a bump to the head. He seems otherwise uninjured.”
“That’s good. Is he going to be okay, Daddy?”
“Yes. I think he’s just knocked out. Get our bags together and put all the food, water, and medical supplies in yours and mine, okay?” Nigel gave her a comforting smile and squeezed her arm. “We’ll get home soon, I promise.”
“Sure, we will. You’re our hero.” Josie hugged him and set to her task.
‘Hero — I don’t feel like one of those today!’ Hearing his daughter say that increased the pressure on Nigel’s shoulders. He grabbed a rope and a hatchet from inside the rear seats and secured them over his shoulder and to his belt. Cradling his son, he climbed from the plane. “Okay, Forest. You can turn the bloody taps off now!” he yelled. ‘At least the rain’s stopping the fuel tanks exploding!’
Josie giggled at him, “I don’t think the forest has taps, Daddy.” She followed him out the plane with the two rucksacks.
“Pity!” Nigel turned a circle surveying the remains of his plane and the wall of dense, green forest around him.
“Wow! We landed deep in the trees, didn’t we?”
“Hmm, too deep. We have to go for a little walk to find help, I’m afraid.” Nigel hid the fact that it was no use waiting around. Nobody could find the plane buried in the forest like this. Josie didn’t need to know that just now.
“Okay, which way are we going? Each direction looks the same.”
“Yeah, it sure does.” Nigel put Jarrod down on a soft patch of leaf litter. “Helpfully, we were flying back to the airport when the rain knackered the plane. I kept the nose pointing in the same direction until we crashed. So—”
“We follow our nose!” Josie finished for him.
Nigel smoothed her dark hair from her hazel eyes. She had a lot of her mother’s features which made him smile. “Exactly. You’re a very smart, special young lady. You know that?” He playfully poked her nose and took out his compass.
“Thank you, Daddy.” Josie took the bronze compass from him. “I’ve seen these in geography class. it always points North right?”
“Sure, does. So, look. Jarrod is due north of us now and the plane’s nose is therefore aiming south-west.” Nigel demonstrated as he adjusted the compass to work the direction of travel. “So, long as we keep heading south-west we should get out with no problem. Can you handle that, Navigator?”
“Got it! Lots of south-west. Let’s go!” Josie pointed the right way and smiled.
“Great!” With their rucksacks on and Jarrod over Nigel’s shoulder, they set off into the forest. Even still, Nigel knew they couldn’t reach the city before the day was out. He kept them moving at a fair pace, stopping twice, only to rest and check on Jarrod. Josie grew tired after what felt like a couple of hours walking. At least by then, the rain had stopped. Nigel pressed on a little further until he came upon a stream, he’d seen from the plane earlier. The airport was still around ten miles away. A days walk in the dense forest.
“Right, we’ll camp here tonight. I need you to collect firewood for me, Josie. Try to find dry stuff hanging in the trees. Everything else will be too wet.” Nigel lent Jarrod against a tree.
“Okay.” Josie yawned as she headed to the nearest trees and bushes to forage.
Nigel smiled proudly after her and checked Jarrod over. At his touch, the boy stirred and flickered his eyes open.
“Daddy … my head hurts!” he complained.
“I know, Son.” Nigel helped him take half a paracetamol with some water from a bottle. ‘This is why, I always have supplies with me,’ he thought. “Lay here and rest, okay,” he instructed having picked up the axe.
Josie returned with her first armful of firewood. She saw her brother was awake, dropped the wood and ran to hug him. “Jar-Jar, you’re awake! You’re okay.”
“That’s it, you look after him now.” Nigel began chopping some larger tree limbs into lengths. He always adored the relationship between his son and daughter. They hardly ever quarrelled and like today always cared for each other. He soon had a lean-to shelter built and thatched with sprays of large leaf rhododendron. With Jarrod and Josie inside and drying out, he set the fire and taught them how to light it using potassium permanganate from the first aid kit and a sachet of sugar from his lunchbox.
“Look, Jo-Jo, Daddy’s a magician!” Jarrod clapped as the flames leapt through the tinder and twigs on the fire.
“Well, more of a mad scientist really,” Nigel grinned as he sat back to enjoy the heat.
“I still think you’re magic.” Josie handed him half a sandwich. “I decided only to give out a little food. So, we have some for tomorrow.”
Nigel bit into and savoured the ham and cheese. “Hmm, that’s very wise. Thank you, Sweetie.” He would have little sleep during the night. With the onus to keep his children safe, he remained vigilant over the fire and kept it going even through another incessant downpour.
As morning broke, the kindred trio finished their food and set off again. Thankfully, Jarrod seemed much better and was happy to walk with his sister. Just before afternoon, they broke out from under the tree canopy onto a grassy meadow. Nigel soon heard the rotors of the rescue chopper thumping through the air. He wasted little time setting another small fire and signalling for help.
“There it is, Daddy!” Josie began jumping about and waving her arms through the plumes of smoke from the fire.
Nigel watched the chopper dip as if waving. He smiled — they’d been seen. “Haha! We made it!” he yelled as he hugged his children in delight.
The red and white painted craft disappeared over the trees, made a turn and landed with a blast of wind in front of them. The rear doors opened and a rescuer clad all in red ran over to them. “I’m Rico, I’m glad to see you.” He knelt and put his arms around the children. “You must be Josie and Jarrod. Your mummy’s waiting for you. She threatened the box my ears if I did find and bring you home.”
“Thank you for rescuing us,” Jarrod said as Josie hugged him.
“Ouch! I think I might stay here.” Nigel pulled on a funny expression. “If I go home, I might need rescuing again!”
“Yeah, and having met your wife, I’m not coming to the rescue!” Rico chuckled as everybody clambered into the chopper at the end of quite an adventure.
Have a great day!