Classic Man: "What To Do If The Pilot Dies"

Illustration for article titled Classic Man: "What To Do If The Pilot Dies"

Frequently in this space, we will consult a new entry in the 1987 book The Modern Man’s Guide to Life to see how the advice therein has aged. This is our first example, on the matter of air travel.


So you’re flying somewhere. Say you’re going somewhere tropical to enjoy your first vacation in years. Then, what do you know? The pilot of the plane goes and dies on you. What do you do? Let’s start with “not panic” and go from there.

The Modern Man’s Guide to Life says:

Airplanes are inherently stable, and if the guy has croaked in midflight, he’s already adjusted the airplane to keep on the straight and narrow. Tune the radio marked “Comm” to the universal emergency frequency, 121.5. Pick up the mike, push the button and say, “Mayday.” Stay calm. Repeat your message several times. Remember to release the button on the mike, or you won’t be able to hear the air traffic controller who will start talking to you. Listen to what he says. Listen as if your life depended on it. Because if you’re in this situation, it does.

These directions presume a few things: One, you haven’t shat your pants, and your head is cool enough to do this. Two, the copilot and flight attendants, who presumably have training in these kinds of situations, have also died, and you are the last hope. Three, no one else on the plane is capable (or alive). And four, the pilot felt the cold hands of death closing in so distinctly that he carefully set all of the settings to “autopilot” or whatever and then leaned back, folded his hands behind his head, made peace with his god, and waited for Charon to ferry him across the River Styx. But otherwise, these pointers hold up almost 30 years later. Verily, 121.5 is the international emergency frequency, or the guard; it is always used for distress situations in the air, and it’s very unlikely to change. So if you can remember that part, you’re probably good.

In any case, it’s not likely you’ll ever have to do this. A quick search showed one instance of a pilot dying in-flight in 2009, and another in 2013. In both cases, the copilot took command. There was also a story of a pilot dying on a private flight in 2009, where one of the passengers had to land the plane, but he actually had his pilot’s license. In other words, this kind of thing is very, very rare. But in the words of the Boy Scouts and the Lion King, be prepared, and in the words of French Montana and Coldplay, don’t panic, and in the words of your nearest priest, :pray emoji:.

Adequate Man is Deadspin’s new self-improvement blog, dedicated to making you just good enough at everything. Suggestions for future topics are welcome below.