Surviving After a Plane Crash

You don't hear about too many people surviving plane crashes, but those that do sometimes have to also survive in the wilderness with limited supplies. Of course, the survival tactics you're going to use will depend a lot on the environment in which you crash. While no one hopes to be in a plane crash, Les Stroud of the Survivorman TV show thought it worthwhile to simulate such a situation.

Les' 7-day adventure takes place during the middle in an area called Temagami of northern Ontario. A plane wreck is flown in to the location to further enhance the realism of the exercise. As with all survival situations, Les first determines his most pressing need — a fire for warmth. Without matches, Les figures he can instead use the plane's battery, remaining gasoline, and two metal rods to start a fire. His initial set up of using a gas soaked rag as tinder doesn't work. His second set up uses a container with some gasoline in it. Les recalls that he once heard it is the gasoline fumes that will ignite and not the gasoline itself. This time the sparks generated from the rods that are connected to the battery terminals result in a fire. Les Stroud, as you can imagine, is ecstatic.

Next up on Les' list of priorities is to construct a shelter out of the plane wreck's hull. There isn't sufficient time to do anything else. Unfortunately the plane is in bad shape, but by moving parts around he is able to create some protection from the wind. Still, with temperatures at -18 degrees Fahrenheit it would be an exaggeration to say he was comfortable during his first night.

The next morning Les tells us that despite common wilderness survival wisdom, he is eating snow for water. He has no choice. He also runs through his gear which includes wool clothing which stays warm even when wet and won't melt when in front of a fire. He also has a wool blanket, multi-tool, survival saw, and an ax.

Although not actually injured, Les shows how fabric from the sides of the plane can be fashioned in to a makeshift sling for an injured arm — an important step in keeping it immobile and warm. For the next couple of days, Les keeps his arm in a sling to experience the added difficulties of using just one arm. Knowing that the night will be cold once again, Les further improves his shelter by moving additional parts such as the door to better block the wind.

Although not his top priority, Les also works on acquiring some food by setting up snares made out of plane wires. He places them near the convergence of some rabbit tracks. Using sticks he sets up a subtle funnel to further guide the rabbits towards the wire noose. Les sets up 5 or 6 such traps to better his odds.

In addition to setting up traps, Les also spends a good chunk of his time collecting wood. He also gives his survival saw (a cutting wire connected to a metal ring on each end) a try, but it breaks upon its first use. With snares set and wood collected, Les spends some time chopping at the ice over a lake. Breaking through could give him access to fish. He doesn't get through the ice at this time or the next day when he tries again.

Day 3 begins with bitter cold temperatures. Les has spent hours getting warm before he gets to turning on the cameras. On this day Les decides he will start preparations for his departure. The plane continues to be useful in that it provides materials for the base of a sled. Wires connected to the metal sled act as ropes.

Knowing that he won't be able to take the battery and gasoline with him to start another fire, Les uses the charred cloth technique to prepare some tinder. Charred cloth is made by placing cotton in between folded metal which is then placed in a fire. The cloth must not come in contact with flames and should be heat until the cloth turns black. This cloth then becomes quite flammable requiring just a spark to ignite.

The plan for day 4 is to head out across the ice. Unfortunately the winds and falling snow are not conducive to travel so he delays his departure and instead checks all of his snares. Luckily for Les, one of his traps has worked and he has caught himself a rabbit.

This next part is not for the queasy… To skin the rabbit, Les uses his multi-tool to make an incision around the rabbit's hind-legs and across its body. The idea here is to remove the rabbit's fur by peeling it back starting from its hind-quarters. If done correctly, you will not only end up with a skinned rabbit, but the skin itself which makes for a warm glove or sock when turned inside out.

The bad weather persists so Les is forced to spend another night in the plane wreckage. At least he has a somewhat full belly. Before bunking down for the night, Les warns us about rabbit starvation — rabbits are lean, they have no fat, so eating them alone for many days and weeks would lead to protein poisoning.

Day 5 begins with weather sufficiently good for travel. He packs up what he can on his metal sled and heads out across the ice and snow towards safety. The trek seems endless. As night approaches, Les decides that he'd rather build a large fire than try to build a shelter. Such a fire requires a lot of wood. A general rule of thumb is to gather as much wood as you think you'll need and then to gather 5 times more. To get today's fire started, Les strikes his ax repeatedly on a rock he found from a nearby river to get a spark. As planned, just a spark or two is sufficient to get the charred cloth burning with which he can then get bark and wood burning.

On Day 6 Les comes across old snowmobile tracks. Although there's no guarantee they'll lead to safety, Les decides to follow them as they are better than nothing. The tracks lead him to a snowmobile trail which is clear enough to follow even at night allowing Les to make up some lost time. This is good because Les has broken one his own cardinal rules and allowed himself to get wet with sweat. Stopping without a shelter at the ready could lead to hypothermia. Better to wait for the next day and rest in the sun's warmth.

On his final day, Les continues his journey. He hasn't made it far enough and is instead picked up by his rescue team just a few miles shy of his destination.

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