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Emergency Services Available to Pilots

Section 2. Emergency Services Available to Pilots


−2−1. Radar Service for VFR Aircraft in



Radar equipped ATC facilities can provide

radar assistance and navigation service (vectors) to
VFR aircraft in difficulty when the pilot can talk with
the controller, and the aircraft is within radar
coverage. Pilots should clearly understand that
authorization to proceed in accordance with such
radar navigational assistance does not constitute
authorization for the pilot to violate CFRs. In effect,
assistance is provided on the basis that navigational
guidance information is advisory in nature, and the
responsibility for flying the aircraft safely remains
with the pilot.


Experience has shown that many pilots who are

not qualified for instrument flight cannot maintain
control of their aircraft when they encounter clouds
or other reduced visibility conditions. In many cases,
the controller will not know whether flight into
instrument conditions will result from ATC instruc-
tions. To avoid possible hazards resulting from being
vectored into IFR conditions, a pilot in difficulty
should keep the controller advised of the current
weather conditions being encountered and the
weather along the course ahead and observe the


If a course of action is available which will

permit flight and a safe landing in VFR weather
conditions, noninstrument rated pilots should choose
the VFR condition rather than requesting a vector or
approach that will take them into IFR weather
conditions; or


If continued flight in VFR conditions is not

possible, the noninstrument rated pilot should so
advise the controller and indicating the lack of an
instrument rating, declare a distress condition; or


If the pilot is instrument rated and current, and

the aircraft is instrument equipped, the pilot should so
indicate by requesting an IFR flight clearance.
Assistance will then be provided on the basis that the
aircraft can operate safely in IFR weather conditions.


−2−2. Transponder Emergency Operation


When a distress  or  urgency condition is

encountered, the pilot of an aircraft with a coded radar
beacon transponder, who desires to alert a ground
radar facility, should squawk Mode 3/A,
Code 7700/Emergency and Mode C altitude report-
ing and then immediately establish communications
with the ATC facility.


Radar facilities are equipped so that Code 7700

normally triggers an alarm or special indicator at all
control positions. Pilots should understand that they
might not be within a radar coverage area. Therefore,
they should continue squawking Code 7700 and
establish radio communications as soon as possible.


−2−3. Intercept and Escort


The concept of airborne intercept and escort is

based on the Search and Rescue (SAR) aircraft
establishing visual and/or electronic contact with an
aircraft in difficulty, providing in-flight assistance,
and escorting it to a safe landing. If bailout, crash
landing or ditching becomes necessary, SAR
operations can be conducted without delay. For most
incidents, particularly those occurring at night and/or
during instrument flight conditions, the availability
of intercept and escort services will depend on the
proximity of SAR units with suitable aircraft on alert
for immediate dispatch. In limited circumstances,
other aircraft flying in the vicinity of an aircraft in
difficulty can provide these services.


If specifically requested by a pilot in difficulty

or if a distress condition is declared, SAR
coordinators will take steps to intercept and escort an
aircraft. Steps may be initiated for intercept and
escort if an urgency condition is declared and unusual
circumstances make such action advisable.


It is the pilot’s prerogative to refuse intercept

and escort services. Escort services will normally be
provided to the nearest adequate airport. Should the
pilot receiving escort services continue onto another
location after reaching a safe airport, or decide not to
divert to the nearest safe airport, the escort aircraft is
not obligated to continue and further escort is