Emergency Voice Reports


  • Assistance can be obtained by contacting the air traffic facility or other agency in the area with the appropriate information
  • If NORDO, always "transmit in the blind"
  • If all else fails on guard (121.5/243.0 MHz) transmit "Any Station..."
    • 2182 kHz has a range generally less than 300 miles
    • Can be used to request assistance from maritime stations

I-SPI Format:

  • Name of station

  • Identification
  • Situation
    • Nature of emergency
    • Weather
  • Position/heading
  • Intentions
    • Altitude
    • Fuel remaining in minutes
    • Souls on board
    • Any useful information

Non-RADAR Environment:

  • Emergency reports of an immediate or serious nature are preceded by the word "MAYDAY"
    • VHF/UHF: "MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY, [Callsign] with [Type of Emergency], [Location], [Altitude], and I plan to [Intention]"

  • Emergency reports of a delayed or less serious nature are preceded by the word "PAN-PAN"
    • VHF/UHF: "PAN-PAN, PAN-PAN, PAN-PAN, [Callsign], [Situation], [Position], [Intention]"

RADAR Environment:

  • The standard procedure for a distressed or urgent situation is to declare an emergency (I-SPI)
    • VHF/UHF: "[Controller], [Callsign] is declaring an emergency, [Type of Emergency], [Position], [Altitude], [Intention]"

If ditching/bailing out facility the following information if possible:

  • ELT status, actuate if situation permits
  • Visible land marks
  • Aircraft color
  • Number of persons on board
  • Emergency equipment on board


  • Leave 1 radio on at all times if possible in case you need to contact someone in a hurry
    • VHF/UHF: "[Callsign] is in the ramp shutting down engine fire"

  • Give as little info as possible but enough to give someone and idea of where you are and that there is a problem so they can get you what you need

Distress and Urgency Communications:

  • 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
    • "[Agency], [Callsign] experiencing [Difficulty], [Intentions/Assistance Desired]"
  • Distress and urgency communications procedures are prescribed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), however, and have decided advantages over the informal procedure described above
  • Distress vs. Urgency:

    • Distress:
      • 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
      • Distress communications have absolute priority over all other communications, and the word MAYDAY commands radio silence on the frequency in use
    • Urgency:
      • The initial communication, and if considered necessary, any subsequent transmissions by an aircraft for an urgency condition should begin with the signal PAN-PAN, preferably repeated three times
      • Urgency communications have priority over all other communications except distress, and the word PAN-PAN warns other stations not to interfere with urgency transmissions
  • 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 responsibility 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]"
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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 frequencies have a range generally limited to line of sight
      • 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

Obtaining Emergency Assistance:

  • A pilot in any distress or urgency condition should immediately take the following action, not necessarily in the order listed, to obtain assistance:
    • Climb, if possible, for improved communications, 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)
    • If equipped with a radar beacon transponder (civil) or IFF/SIF (military):
      • 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
      • If unable to immediately establish communications with an air traffic facility/agency, squawk Mode A/3, Code 7700/Emergency and Mode C
    • Transmit a distress or urgency message consisting of as many as necessary of the following elements, preferably in the order listed:
      • If distress, MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY; if urgency, PAN-PAN, PAN-PAN, PAN-PAN
      • Name of station addressed
      • Aircraft identification and type
      • Nature of distress or urgency
      • Weather
      • Pilots intentions and request
      • Present position, and heading; or if lost, last known position, time, and heading since that position
      • Altitude or flight level
      • Fuel remaining in minutes

      • Number of people on board
      • Any other useful information
  • After establishing radio contact, comply with advice and instructions received
    • Pilots must cooperate
    • Do not hesitate to ask questions or clarify instructions when you do not understand or if you cannot comply with clearance
    • Assist the ground station to control communications on the frequency in use
    • Silence interfering radio stations
    • Do not change frequency or change to another ground station unless absolutely necessary
    • If you do, advise the ground station of the new frequency and station name prior to the change, transmitting in the blind if necessary
    • If two-way communications cannot be established on the new frequency, return immediately to the frequency or station where two-way communications last existed
  • When in a distress condition with bailout, crash landing or ditching imminent, take the following additional actions to assist search and rescue units:
    1. Time and circumstances permitting, transmit as many as necessary of the message elements above, and any of the following that you think might be helpful:
      • ELT status
      • Visible landmarks
      • Aircraft color
      • Number of persons on board
      • Emergency equipment on board
    2. Actuate your ELT if the installation permits
    3. For bailout, and for crash landing or ditching if risk of fire is not a consideration, set your radio for continuous transmission
    4. If it becomes necessary to ditch, make every effort to ditch near a surface vessel
      • If time permits, an FAA facility should be able to get the position of the nearest commercial or Coast Guard vessel from a Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Center
    5. After a crash landing, unless you have good reason to believe that you will not be located by search aircraft or ground teams, it is best to remain with your aircraft and prepare means for signaling search aircraft

Emergency Condition - Request Assistance Immediately:

  • An emergency can be either a distress or urgency condition as defined in the Pilot/Controller Glossary
    • Pilots do not hesitate to declare an emergency when they are faced with distress conditions such as fire, mechanical failure, or structural damage
    • However, some are reluctant to report an urgency condition when they encounter situations which may not be immediately perilous, but are potentially catastrophic
    • An aircraft is in at least an urgency condition the moment the pilot becomes doubtful about position, fuel endurance, weather, or any other condition that could adversely affect flight safety
    • This is the time to ask for help, not after the situation has developed into a distress condition
  • Pilots who become apprehensive for their safety for any reason should request assistance immediately
    • Ready and willing help is available in the form of radio, radar, direction finding stations and other aircraft. Delay has caused accidents and cost lives
    • Safety is not a luxury! Take action!
  • Consider also asking ATC for services available at divert airfields, or NOTAMs


  • There is no one to declare an emergency to if you're not talking to someone, demonstrating the importance of flight following
  • After declaring distress, frequencies, procedures, signals, and call signs may be assigned
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