Snake on the Plane

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jimmy S. Ridenour
  • 55th Wing Exercise and Inspections Division
Imagine you're flying straight and level at 5,000 feet in a single- engine Cessna when out of the instrument panel pops the head of a snake. I think most of us would call this a crisis or at the very least an unexpected event. What would you do in this situation? Maybe a better question is how do you respond to and manage crisis? 

During my limited time in flight training, one of my instructors embedded three things in me that every pilot must remember when faced with situations similar to a snake on a plane. They were fly the plane, navigate and communicate. These three things must be done in that order, especially when faced with an emergency. 

Take Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the pilot who landed U.S. Airways Flight 1549 in New York's Hudson River on Oct. 1, 2008, for example. Captain Sullenberger realized he had a problem as the plane was departing the runway, and his initial response was to fly the plane. Secondly, he took note of his situation and realized he had to navigate to the river. Lastly he communicated the emergency with air traffic control. Because of his actions, hundreds lived following what could've been a tragic accident. 

So, you may be asking yourself, how does this apply to me? I contend that fly the plane, navigate and communicate are tools we can all use to help us through a crisis. First, we must fly the plane, or to put it in another way, we must maintain control of ourselves. 

We can maintain control by living a healthy lifestyle and taking precautions. A properly trained pilot takes time to conduct a pre-flight inspection of a plane he or she will be flying. The pilot checks the "health" of the plane before every flight. He or she checks the flight controls, engine compartment, wheels and many other items prior to taking flight. We can do the same by performing physical training three times a week. Doing so helps keep our "vehicles" healthy. 

Another way we can lead a healthy lifestyle is by keeping our immunizations current. The bottom line is we must fly the plane before we can navigate our way through adversity. 

Once we are actively flying the plane, we must then begin to navigate. When I say navigate, I'm talking about situational awareness. Where are we, what is the obstacle, how do we get around the obstacle and where do we want to be in order to resolve the issue? 

How do we navigate through the issue? 

First, we can strive to become experts in our particular specialties. Doing so enables each of us to have the knowledge and skills necessary to successfully resolve issues in the work place. 

Secondly, training is probably one of the best ways to enhance navigation skills. When we train, we learn about what could happen and practice methods to overcome those obstacles. 

Lastly, patience goes a long way when navigating through a crisis. If we go back a step and realize that we have control because we are flying the plane then we can exercise some patience to see what might or might not happen next. Don't rush it, fly the plane then navigate through the obstacle. 

Once we have a path to follow, we need to communicate. 

Communication is often referred to as the most vital aspect of most situations. However, communication tends to get garbled when in the heat of battle. That's why we first fly the plane and navigate. In doing so we take control of the situation and, to some extent, douse the flames, so we can communicate clearly. When we communicate clearly we not only enlist the help of other experts, in Captain Sullenberger's case ATC, but we are also able to document the actions that were taken and possibly avoid the crisis in the future. 

Communication is vital during a crisis for many reasons. While you may seem to have things in control, the people you communicate with may often make suggestions or give advice that will help you get through. Remember there are three things we must do and communicate is one of them. It might be last, but it's not least. 

What happened to the snake coming out of the instrument panel? 

Well, the pilot remembered what his instructor told him 25 years prior and he flew the plane! With the snake and plane under control, the pilot navigated to the nearest airport and clearly communicated with ATC to obtain a priority landing and touched down safely. Crisis averted. 

We will all face some sort of crisis situation in our lives. How we deal with those situations defines us as leaders, followers and individuals. 

When we remain in control, figure out how to solve problems and communicate with others, we can make it through anything.