Why you need a good emergency locator transmitter (ELT)

Craig Medred has written a great post for the Alaska Dispatch’s Bush Pilot blog about a recent incident in Alaska that showed the importance of having a good emergency locator transmitter (ELT) whenever and wherever you fly. The incident involved the crash of a single-engine Cessna 185 airplane in the Alphabet Hills north of remote Glennallen in Southcentral Alaska when Wayne Humbert, one of the four onboard the aircraft, reached into his pocket for a four year old “yellow, six-ounce, palm-size” satellite messaging device known as "Spot." On it were four buttons and he pressed the one that said “Help.”

After pushing the button, a signal went to a satellite and then back to Globalstar’s headquarters in Louisiana. There, a computer identified Humbert as the owner of the device and a call was made to his wife in Anchorage – who was not home. A second call was then made to his mother in Arizona who was not sure what to do and hence, another call was made to his wife. This time they reached her and she called the Alaska Wildlife Troopers who were soon in the air and on their way to the crash scene to pick up a bruised Humbert along with his three friends.

Craig then noted that Federal Aviation Administration-required ELTs have become a regular topic of discussion among Alaska’s small-plane pilots and Bush fliers due to their expense as the latest 406 MHz ELT device costs US$995 while the Spot device cost around US$150. He further quoted Gary Bennett from Northern Avionics in Anchorage as saying that cost is a major factor that keeps many pilots from switching to the newer device. Moreover:

"AOPA opposes any attempt to mandate or otherwise require the replacement of existing 121.5/243-MHz ELTs with 406-MHz units. AOPA recognizes the benefits that can be derived from the advanced ELTs available today. However, the benefits of advanced ELTs must be balanced against cost and the needs of the individual aircraft owner," the organization says on its website. "AOPA supports the installation of these more advanced ELTs on a voluntary basis. General aviation is an industry already struggling under the weight of increased regulation and mandated equipage, and the decisions to replace an existing ELT should be left to the discretion of the aircraft owner."

Luckily for Humbert, both the new 406 MHz ELT device on the aircraft plus his “Spot” device worked and he and his friends were quickly rescued.

Craig’s post then went on to discuss other various emergency locator transmitter options and hence, its well worth reading by pilots everywhere – especially those who fly in remote areas.

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2 Responses to Why you need a good emergency locator transmitter (ELT)

  1. Vincent September 28, 2010 at 06:35 #

    There's no need to go as far as Alaska to need modern ELTs… One of the problems with the old 121.5 ones is that they don't send any information, just a tone on the emergency frequency. Even with airborne direction finders, it can be really hard to locate such a transmitter in a region like the Alps, where radio signals can be reflected and seem to fulfil a whole valley.

    The new ELTs can send an aircraft registration as well as a position, making the response of emergency teams way faster.

    Now, regarding AOPA, I understand that they only oppose to the mandatory aspect of any change, to give the choice to owners. They don't oppose to the technology itself, as far as I know…

  2. Michael Mayes September 28, 2010 at 14:56 #

    @Vincent Yep, AOPA doesn't oppose the technology itself, in fact they appreciate the additional safety it can provide. However they always have to fight against mandatory changes such as this, especially when the financial burden might be more than some people can bear right away, and making it mandatory would make it illegal to fly without it (ELTs are VFR required equipment here in the states, as I'm sure it is over the pond).

    The AOPA does a decent job I believe of compromising for the most part and getting windows of transition for new mandates in order to make the GA fleet safer, but to allow owner/operators the chance to move over when they can afford it.

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