Aviation Safety Letter 1/2003

UNSAR: Unnecessary SAR Alert

by Derek Howes, Program Officer, Risk Assessment and Safety Studies, Transport Canada

Did you know that Canadian Joint Rescue Coordination Centres (JRCC) recorded 369 alerts from aircraft emergency locator transmitters (ELTs) in 2001? Of these, 322 alerts were false alarms that took over 1 500 hours of intervention time by JRCCs just to find out that no help was required.

In many of these cases search and rescue (SAR) resources, such as Canadian Forces aircraft, Civil Air Search and Rescue Association (CASARA) and Industry Canada had to be dispatched to find the source of the ELT signal - to find out in the end that it was a false alarm. Some examples include:

  • Over 18 hours spent by CASARA and Industry Canada inspectors locating an Aeronca parked in a hangar. The ELT had been accidentally activated.
  • 6.8 hours spent by a Canadian Forces Hercules aircraft in locating a helicopter whose ELT was activated during maintenance. 
  • 4.2 hours of Canadian Forces time to locate an ELT in a Purolator truck. The ELT had been shipped for maintenance armed and with the batteries in place. You can help minimize this number and amount of time spent dealing with those incidents by:
    • Making sure the ELT is part of your preflight check:
    • Secure, free of corrosion and antenna connections are secure
    • Armed
    • Batteries are current
    • Listen on 121.5 to ensure the ELT isn't transmitting
  • After landing - as part of your post-flight routine:
    • Listen on 121.5 to make sure you didn't set off the ELT with that bounce on landing
    • Turn your ELT function switch to "OFF" if practical

If your ELT did go off accidentally, let an air traffic service (ATS) unit or JRCC know, advising them the ELT location and how long it was activated. This may prevent the unnecessary launch of search aircraft. Just turning your ELT off without telling anyone will leave SAR officials in doubt about the incident and whether or not the search should continue.

Finally, when shipping your ELT for maintenance, turn the ELT function switch to "OFF" and remove the batteries if possible. Funny enough, those Purolator and Canada Post trucks get a little concerned when a big yellow and red aircraft starts following them!

Previous PageNext Page
Date modified: