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6/17/21 

AIM 

Section 3.  Distress and Urgency Procedures 

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1.  Distress and Urgency 

Communications 

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 
(Tower)(Radio)(Radar).” 

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 
desirable: 

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 
tower. 

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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. 

Distress and Urgency Procedures 

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