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Distress and Urgency Procedures

Section 3. Distress and Urgency Procedures

6−3−1. Distress and Urgency


a. A pilot who encounters a distress or urgency

condition can obtain assistance simply by contacting

the air traffic facility or other agency in whose area of

responsibility the aircraft is operating, stating the

nature of the difficulty, pilot’s intentions and

assistance desired. Distress and urgency communica-

tions procedures are prescribed by the International

Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), however, and

have decided advantages over the informal procedure

described above.

b. Distress and urgency communications proce-

dures discussed in the following paragraphs relate to

the use of air ground voice communications.

c. The initial communication, and if considered

necessary, any subsequent transmissions by an

aircraft in distress should begin with the signal

MAYDAY, preferably repeated three times. The

signal PAN−PAN should be used in the same manner

for an urgency condition.

d. Distress communications have absolute priority

over all other communications, and the word

MAYDAY commands radio silence on the frequency

in use. Urgency communications have priority over

all other communications except distress, and the

word PAN−PAN warns other stations not to interfere

with urgency transmissions.

e. Normally, the station addressed will be the

air traffic facility or other agency providing air traffic

services, on the frequency in use at the time. If the

pilot is not communicating and receiving services,

the station to be called will normally be the air traffic

facility or other agency in whose area of responsibil-

ity the aircraft is operating, on the appropriate

assigned frequency. If the station addressed does not

respond, or if time or the situation dictates, the

distress or urgency message may be broadcast, or a

collect call may be used, addressing “Any Station


f. The station addressed should immediately

acknowledge a distress or urgency message, provide

assistance, coordinate and direct the activities of

assisting facilities, and alert the appropriate search

and rescue coordinator if warranted. Responsibility

will be transferred to another station only if better

handling will result.

g. All other stations, aircraft and ground, will

continue to listen until it is evident that assistance is

being provided. If any station becomes aware that the

station being called either has not received a distress

or urgency message, or cannot communicate with the

aircraft in difficulty, it will attempt to contact the

aircraft and provide assistance.

h. Although the frequency in use or other

frequencies assigned by ATC are preferable, the

following emergency frequencies can be used for

distress or urgency communications, if necessary or

121.5 MHz and 243.0 MHz. Both have a range

generally limited to line of sight. 121.5 MHz is

guarded by direction finding stations and some

military and civil aircraft. 243.0 MHz is guarded by

military aircraft. Both 121.5 MHz and 243.0 MHz are

guarded by military towers, most civil towers, and

radar facilities. Normally ARTCC emergency

frequency capability does not extend to radar

coverage limits. If an ARTCC does not respond when

called on 121.5 MHz or 243.0 MHz, call the nearest


6−3−2. Obtaining Emergency Assistance

a. A pilot in any distress or urgency condition

should  immediately take the following action, not

necessarily in the order listed, to obtain assistance:

1. Climb, if possible, for improved communica-

tions, and better radar and direction finding detection.

However, it must be understood that unauthorized

climb or descent under IFR conditions within

controlled airspace is prohibited, except as permitted

by 14 CFR Section 91.3(b).

2. If equipped with a radar beacon transponder

(civil) or IFF/SIF (military):

(a) Continue squawking assigned Mode A/3

discrete code/VFR code and Mode C altitude

encoding when in radio contact with an air traffic

facility or other agency providing air traffic services,

unless instructed to do otherwise.