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The ARCC comes to Morningstar

At a recent CAA roadshow, held at the River Club, Observatory, one of the invited guests, Danie Heath, of ATNS, gave a presentation on the Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre (ARCC), its functions and how and where it fits into aviation. A truly professional and very informative presentation. He finished by saying that the ARCC was trying to get the word on safety to more pilots.

With this in mind, Ross Leighton, Chairman of Morningstar invited the ARCC to come and address the club, at one of their monthly meetings.

On the 28th August, the ARCC arrived and what an evening it was!  About 80 members of the club, and a few friends attended and were treated to a truly professional presentation. I cannot remember seeing so many pilots paying so much attention and almost being lost for words!

Danie Heath, an Area controller from Johannesburg, part time commercial pilot and now Senior Search master at the ARCC kept the audience thoroughly entertained with his outstanding presentation.

The presentation started off with where the ARCC fits into the Department of Transport, interacting with the MRCC – Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre, and then described the area of Responsibility of the ARCC. It is worthwhile and interesting to know that ICAO has allocated 18% of the earth’s surface to SA! So it has a massive role to play and is a vital cog in the world of Search and Rescue. He went on to highlight a few of the problems, such a big area creates and how they are managed.

Danie Heath

He went on to deal with the many  problems that are experienced by the ARCC, when a search has to be done – and subsequent rescue. These included:

  • Before you depart on ANY flight, have you done a proper planning?

  • Have you told ANYONE of your intentions and when you will be back. If not from a flying club, tell a friend or a family member.

  • It is important to tell them exactly where you are going! Don’t say you are heading off North and then get airborne and head South!!!

  • Have you filed a flight plan?  This is the best way of letting anyone know of your intentions and also the easiest for the ARCC, as they can immediately start planning their search on the information contained in this, should you go missing. There is such a reluctance by general aviation pilots to file plans. It costs you nothing and can save your life.

  • By filing a plan, you become aware to the ATS services and they are able to allocate a SSR code to you and provide a flight watch and search and rescue service, should it become necessary.     

  • Your ETA = tell someone when you plan to be back/arrive at your destination and what they should do, lest you fail to let them know you have arrived. This is particularly important, as was seen in a recent accident in the Pretoria area, where an aircraft from a local flying club, at an unmanned airport, on a night flying navex went down and the aircraft was only discovered as missing the next day. A tragic and, possibly, avoidable loss of life?

The ARCC has two 24 hour mobile numbers that are manned by a search master and are available at all times to assist in any matter whatsoever when it comes to any issue relating to search and rescue. If you are aware of an aircraft in distress or have witnessed an accident, phone one of these numbers immediately for any assistance:

063 505 4164 or 063 505 5485

A discussion followed on the difference between a PAN and a MAYDAY. This included how pilots should use them, when and what response they can expect. It proved quite an eye-opener to many of the audience.

Danie went on the speak about your first aid kit and emergency equipment that is carried. It’s all very well having a first aid kit, but do you know what is in it and how to use it? A deathly silence from many of the audience. He went on to mention several accidents were pilots had to treat themselves and they did not know how to or how to use the kit.

Thereafter he spoke about which equipment you should have with you and how to use it. If you carry a torch, NEVER point it at a pilot, at night. Many of the SAAF pilots are flying with Night Vision Goggles and the torch will blind them and hinder the rescue. Rather than  shine it in the vicinity of the helicopter or search aircraft, use it to point out the landing area, Small things, but significant.

Danie appealed to everyone to carry a spare Powerbank with you at all times. All too often, the ARCC has been able to communicate with downed pilots via a mobile device, but before they can be rescued the device’s battery runs down. The spare Powerbank can prove to be a massive help and increase the time your mobile is on. The other advantage of a mobile being on, is use can be made of mobile aerials to create a triangular search area.

Should I stay or should I go? The often asked question and Danie dealt in detail with it – use common sense. Don’t go in a mountainous area, but if you on flat land and can see a house, etc, go!

Danie spent the last part of the presentation dealing with what happens when a search is required and how it is initiated and all the planning that goes into on

These include:

  • Gathering all the available information – POB, aircraft type, the route, flight plans, ETA, etc

  • The local owner/operator is contacted and many questions are asked about the flight – now you see the importance of staying on your route and letting someone know where you are

  • Social media experts are called in to look at all social media for possible information

  • A review of the weather and forecast in the possible area

  • All this information is fed into a special computer and a Primary and Secondary search area are formulated

  • The search and rescue organisation have to task the various services needed to conduct the search and fully and comprehensively brief them

  • Then the search can finally begin.

People always question why a search takes so long to start and get going. When you consider all the above steps, it can be seen why, it’s better to plan properly, and do it properly, than rather just run out and do a search!

He highlighted the importance of the search being officially organised and undertaken and pointed out that in terms of the law, it can be illegal to undertake a private search.

Once a search has commenced, constant contact is kept with the search teams and also next of kin are kept informed of the progress. The information is re-entered into the computer and the search areas amended, as required. This is a massive task and requires the skill and expertise of many leaders in the field.

Likewise, once a wreck has been located, the rescue needs to be done and comprehensive planning is once again necessary, the CAA and SAPS need to be informed, this is truly team effort.

It was evident not many pilots realise how complicated it is and what is required and all now have a better understanding of what gets done, when an aircraft goes down.

All the information used during any rescue is kept on file and computer and is often used in subsequent searches, so no information is ever discarded.

He concluded his talk by highlighting the problems that are experience with SOCIAL MEDIA. He made a plea for people NEVER TO PUT INFORMATION AND PICTURES ON ANY FORM OF SOCIA MEDIA. Often the information is incorrect, and out of respect for the next of kin can be shocking and distressing. Imagine if you have a family member who is in an accident and you find out about it via SOCIAL MEDIA. Especially if they have passed away. Don’t put pictures on and become an expert, until such time that official information has been released.

After this thoroughly interesting talk, a very robust question and answer session took place and many fascinating questions were asked and some good answers were provided. Danie commented that this was the best question and answer session he had been in and it was great to see such mature questions being asked and the discussions that followed.

Dannie explained that the ARCC had been awarded a budget that allows for such presentations, so if you are a FTO or flying club, you should consider getting them to come and talk to you and make Search and Rescue more aware to your members. You and your members will learn something, that may just save your life one day!


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