Arctic Emergencies

The widespread operations of the Army Air Forces over such varied terrain as tropical jungle, snow-capped mountains, deserts, and Arctic regions has given rise to a number of lively, intelligible and authoritative booklets designed to assist airmen forced down in these unfamiliar zones. The following article is, in large part, a reprint from one of those booklets, written for airmen flying over the Arctic. The booklet was prepared for by the safety Education Section, Flight Control Command, AAF. It has a buttoned-over cover to protect contents and make it convenient for all flyers to carry. It is profusely illustrated with drawings of signals, means of making life easier, edible plants, and animals likely to be met. —Editor.

The Arctic is not always ice, snow and cold. In late August, 80 percent of all land north of the Arctic Circle is free of snow. Summer temperatures in the lowlands, remote from mountain and seacoast, run around 85° to 90°.

Arctic winter climate on the average is dry. Actually, relatively little snow falls. What appears to be a blizzard is frequently merely old snow being blown from one point to another by a high wind. Annual snowfall added to annual rainfall seldom exceeds 10 inches. Heaviest snows come in the spring.

When an emergency develops over the Arctic, land your plane if it is at all possible. Crash landings or even wheels-down landings can be executed safely on snow. Landings on ice should be made wheels-up.

Don't wander aimlessly if you are lost. Save enough gasoline for a landing under full control with enough extra for an exploratory approach to your landing spot. Watch for blowing snow — it will indicate the direction of the ground wind.

Don't pick an area of ice or snow that looks patchy from an altitude. It may be deeply drifted snow or rough crevassed ice. Tightly packed snow drifts, known as sastrugi, look like ocean waves from an altitude. If a landing must be made in such terrain, land parallel with the drifts.

In searching for a good landing spot make use of the natural "sky map." It will save time. In the Arctic, a uniform overcast with clouds at a high level reflects the terrain below and gives a fairly dependable indication of terrain and general ground conditions. A uniform white "sky," for example, indicates a uniform covering of snow. If the "map" is mottled, the region directly below is likely to be pack ice or drifted snow. Blue (new) ice is indicated by grayish patches, and open water, timber, and snow-free ground show up as black areas in cloud reflection.

Bail out over the Arctic only in an extreme emergency and then stuff your maps, emergency rations and as much loose equipment as you can in your pockets and in your flying coat. Landing with your plane is important not only because it will provide you with shelter, food, fuel and equipment, but because it will serve as a marker for the planes that are sent out in search of you. Men are hard to see on the snow even from a low altitude; a plane stands out against the snow. If your landing is in snow country do two things immediately:

  1. Drain several gallons of lubricating oil from the engine oil sump. In the far north this oil will be your immediate source of fuel for heating and cooking. If you wait too long after landing the oil will become so stiff that it will be impossible to drain it. A cowl section can be used as a receptacle. Drain a similar quantity of gasoline but, if it is wintertime, don't spill any on your hands — it will freeze.
  2. If you were successful in making a wheels-down landing and your plane is still flyable, drain all the lubricating oil (it will be simpler to heat the congealed oil than to heat the engine if a take-off is attempted) and stake your plane to protect it from the wind. In snow country, mooring anchors can be made by burying branches, sacks, boxes, or cans in the snow and pouring water over the spot. On ice, two holes can be dug a foot apart and a hole chopped through the intervening bridge to take a mooring line. Mooring lines should be tight enough to prevent the plane from rocking.

For signals, remove all snow and frost from your plane — it will stand out better against the snow. Remove the cowl panels from your engine (or engines) and place them, unpainted side up, on the wings. They will serve as reflectors. If wood is available, lay up several large signal fires about 50 feet from each side of the plane. Lubricating oil thrown on a fire will make a smudge visible for a good many miles. In snow country where there are trees, distress messages can be written in the snow by forming 200-foot-high letters with evergreen boughs. Keep your signal pistol or signal flares where you can get them quickly.

Some measure should also be taken to prevent your landing wheel tires from freezing to the ice. A padding of boughs, canvas, or straw under the wheels will do the job.

When the sun is shining, a mirror or any shiny piece of metal salvaged from your plane can be used as one of the best of all signalling devices. One of the simplest ways to aim a mirror is to use an aiming stake. Any piece of wood four or five feet long can serve as the stake, or one of your party can stand in position.

Hold the mirror so you can sight along its upper edge. Change your position until the tip end of the stick and the plane line up. Then adjust the angle of the mirror until the beam of light reflected by the mirror hits the top of the stick. If stick and plane are then kept in the sighting line, the reflection will be visible from the plane.

Some emergency kits are now fitted with a special signalling mirror, which is a double-faced mirror provided with a sighting or aiming hole.

Hold the mirror a few inches away from your eye and sight at the plane through the sighting hole. The light from the sun shining through the hole will form a light spot on your face, and this spot will be reflected in the rear surface of the mirror. Then, still sighting on the plane, adjust the angle of the mirror so the light spot on the rear mirrored surface just coincides with the sighting hole. When it does, the mirror will be accurately aimed.

Once you have sighted a rescue plane and attracted the attention of the pilot, body signals can be used to transmit messages.

As soon as possible after landing, check your equipment. Snow goggles should be worn at all times. The snow goggles in your kit will protect your eyes against the glare. If they have been lost or broken you can fashion a pair of Eskimo-type snow shields from a piece of wood about six inches long and an inch wide by burning holes or slits through it at eye width. The goggles can be held on with a short length of shroud line cut from your parachute. Don't make your snow goggles out of metal. Metals will freeze to your skin.

As an additional precaution against snow blindness, blacken your cheeks and the bridge of your nose with soot, charcoal, or dirty engine oil. The blackening will help cut down reflection.

Snow blindness can occur during a bright overcast as quickly as during sunny weather.

Several layers of light clothing are much warmer than a single layer of heavy clothing. Inner clothing should be fluffy and porous; outer clothing should be windproof.

In winter your clothes should be loose enough to allow a free circulation of air so that your perspiration can evaporate. It it doesn't it will form frost inside your clothes and you will be well on your way to freezing and frostbite. Keep your clothing and your socks dry. If you must do heavy work, loosen your clothing and remove some of it. Avoid becoming overheated — an excess of perspiration will mean wet clothing and drying them in sub-zero weather is difficult. If you get wet change to dry clothing as soon as possible. Frost can be removed by turning the garment inside out and beating it with a stick. To dry clothes with the heat from a fire build a simple rack to hold them.

Don't wear tight shoes. If the shoes you have on are not big enough to allow you to wear at least two pair of heavy socks don't use them. Instead, improvise a pair of boots by wrapping your feet in strips of canvas cut from your wing covers, motor covers, or any other heavy material that may be aboard your plane. If rescue fails your feet will be your only means of travel, so take care of them.

Keep your hands and feet warm and dry and you will be fairly comfortable no matter what the temperature.

An improvised warm double sock can be made by putting one pair of wool socks inside another and inserting a layer of stuffing from a life preserver cushion int the space between the two.

If you have them, a good combination for keeping your hands warm consists of heavy woolen inner mitts with canvas or other windproof outer mitts.

Never touch cold metal with your bare hands. It will freeze to the skin. If you do touch metal by accident, thaw the metal loose from the skin. Don't pull it.

Tight-fitting face masks made of canvas or other cloth should be avoided. They are more of a hazard than a protection. Instead, fasten a piece of cloth across the front of your parka hood just below the level of your eyes and let it hang down loosely below your collar. This type of face shield not only protects your face but allows your moist breath to escape.

Don't grow a beard if you can help it — moisture from your breath will freeze on your beard and form an ice-mask that may freeze your face.

Shelter can be provided in a number of ways. Hard-packed snow drifts can be hollowed out to provide protection for two or three men. If a semi-permanent type of camp is necessary, built an ice house. The ice or snow can be cut into blocks with a machete or snow knife or with a large blade improvised from a strip of metal salvaged from your plane.

A good tent can be made out of your parachute — with the shrouds serving as stake lines. When you cut your chute free of its harness, save the harness. It can be used as an improvised pack.

Pitch your tent in a sheltered spot but not in the lee of a snow bank where it stands any chance of being buried by drifting snow. If no natural windbreak is available, construct one out of snow or ice blocks. The opening of your tent should be away from the direction of the prevailing wind and the floor should be covered with boughs, canvas wing covers, engine covers or seat cushions.

In tree country, a lean-to shelter can be constructed by arranging a framework of poles and covering it on three sides with a thick layer of evergreen boughs.

The floor of your shelter should be lined with boughs, canvas, or seat cushions. If you are using a sleeping bag, air and dry it at least once every three days. Wear as few clothes as possible in your sleeping bag. Excessive body moisture will condense and form frost inside the bag. When this happens, turn the bag inside out and beat it with a stick. A damp or frosted sleeping bag is dangerous; keep it dry.

Don't put your sleeping bag directly on the snow or ice. Protect it with a layer of evergreen boughs if they are available or with wing cover, seat cushions, or engine covers.

In tree country, wood for heating and cooking fires is no problem. Various types of fires and fireplaces can be used. Shield your fire from the wind and, in snow country, don't build directly on the ice or snow. Build it on a crib of wood or metal.

If no wood is available, your main source of fuel will be the oil and gasoline drained from your engine. This can be burned in several ways. If the oil is congealed, mold it into small balls. Place one of the pieces in the bottom of an open-top can or any other receptacle that has a draft hole cut near the bottom. Cover it with kapok or other stuffing salvaged from your seat cushions, pour a very small amount of gasoline over the top and light it. More fuel can be added as desired.

If the oil is liquid, mix a little gasoline with it, pour the mixture into the can over an improvised wick consisting of four or five strands of twisted cord or rag supported on a bent-wire tripod frame, and light the wick. A small flame inside a closed heater of this type will provide enough heat for quick cooking. The same type of tin can heater can be used as an economical burner for small quantities of wood.

A heater for use inside your improvised tent or lean-to need be nothing more than a candle burning inside a small tin can. Or, if you have no candles, a miniature of the cooking burner can be made.

In some Arctic regions surface coal is available as fuel.

Animal fats and hides also provide a source of fuel. A small chunk of caribou suet, for instance, placed on a small piece of wood an lighed, is sufficient to cook enough meat to last three men one day. The hide of a musk ox or a grizzly bear will cook three or four pots of food. Seal blubber also makes an excellent fuel.

Warning: Dangerous carbon monoxide fumes are produced when any kind of fire or heater is burned in an unventilated shelter. Be sure to provide ventilation.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is one of the greatest dangers in the Arctic. Carbon monoxide gas is colorless and odorless. Your only means of combating it is through adequate ventilation, particularly at night. A snow drift may cover your tent and reduce the normal ventilation through the fabric of your tent, so provide some other means of ventilation while your stove or fire is burning. Keep a burner or fire going only long enough to cook your food — then put it out.

Eat as much fat as you can. Fat is a heat-producing food and very important to your health in the Arctic.

r bear is very likely to be tough and string if cooked. It is more tender if eaten raw and frozen. Avoid polar bear livers, they are poisonous.

Musk ox meat has a strong flavor but it is rich in fat.

Because of the importance of fats, under no circumstances limit yourself to a meat diet of rabbit just because they happen to be plentiful in the region where you are forced down. Rabbits are generally so lean that you have to eat a little too much for comfort in order to get enough energy out of them. Try to supplement your diet with other things.

Some Arctic birds are well supplied with fat — notably ducks, geese, and swans. These water birds all go through a two- or three-week flightless period while they are molting in midsummer. The best-known winter birds are the ptarmigan, or snow partridge, which is rarely fat; the white owl, which is usually fat and tasty, and the raven, which is tough. Make a point of finding all the gull and tern colonies you can. Here you will be able to get a good supply of eggs and young birds even without a gun. Such colonies are usually on small islands or cliffs.

On the average, all fish have enough fat to make them good Arctic food. The liver of the cod, for example, is an extremely good form of fat and can be eaten boiled.

Although complete protection from scurvy can be had from a prolonged meat-and-fat diet, the roughage value of greens is important. In an emergency, almost any local green, pleasant to the taste and succulent enough to be swallowed, can be eaten.

There are no poisonous flowering plants or grasses in the Arctic. The only poisonous Arctic fungus is easily recognized by its yellowish red cap. All other Arctic fungi found above the northern timberline are edible.

There are no known poisonous plnats in the Arctic above the timberline. However, play safe — avoid raw cow parsnip and mosslike lichens; they may make you sick. Berries are plentiful and nutritious. Here are some:

In the Arctic, boiling is the easiest and best method of cooking. Boiling not only conserves fuel but preserves the essential elements of the foods. In summer and autumn fresh water will be available except on the ice cap or on the sea. In the winter, ice or snow can be used.

When the boiled meat has been eaten, the liquid remaining should be drunk. Never overcook meat, overcooking destroys the vitamins. For a variation in diet, chunks of meat can be broiled over the fire in any one of a number of ways but the bulk of the fish and meat eaten should be boiled.

At sea, ice that is a year or more old can be used for drinking or cooking water. Old ice can be distinguished from the current year's ice by its rounded corners and by its bluish color in contrast to the milky grayness of salt ice. Ice a year old rarely has any noticeable saltiness, while ice two or three years old is generally fresher than average river or spring water. In the summer, fresh water can be found in the hollows in old ice. Water fresh enough for drinking can be found even in the hollows on new ice, which itself is salty in midsummer.

On land, drinking and cooking water offers no great problem. In the winter it is perfectly save to eat snow or cracked ice in small quantities during the day when you are traveling and don't want to take the time necessary to melt it down. Eaten in large quantities, however, it chills the stomach and reduces your body temperature.

When melting down snow or ice, don't fill the pot at once. If you do, the snow on top will soak up the first water like a blotter and leave a cavity directly over the heated bottom of the pot and the pot may burn through. This is particularly so when, as the case probably will be, you are using tin cans for cooking containers. When possible, always melt ice for water. It requires less heat and takes less time.

If you were on your flight course when forced down, stay with your plane. Rescue planes will be out looking for you and will find you; but remember — any search takes time. Don't give up hope of rescue too quickly. Travel in the Arctic is difficult. You will need every aid in the way of clothing and equipment that can be made available to you.

If rescue fails and you decide to walk your way out, lay your plans carefully and then stick to them. What course you decide to follow should be determined largely by your location and the terrain.

In mountainous or wooded areas, your best course, unless you know exactly where you are and have some definite destination, will be to follow streams and rivers downstream. They will lead you eventually either to some post of civilization or to the coast where your chances of finding food and a native village will be good. There is just one exception to this rule — in Siberia, rivers and streams should be followed upstream. The rivers in Siberia flow north, while civilization is to the south.

Don't wander aimlessly. Use your compass to maintain a general direction, but don't try to travel in a straight line. Follow the contour of the land for the easiest going in the general direction that you want to go. If you have no pocket compass remove the compass from your plane.

When you camp, camp on the mountains and not in the valleys. Slopes and ridges in the Arctic are always warmer than the valleys.

In thick wood, blaze a trail on the trees as you go, just in case you have to double back on your course.

Plenty of food and rest is the secret of Arctic travel, particularly in the winter. Don't rush, cook at least one hot meal a day and be sure to get adequate sleep. You can survive many days without food if you will relax and avoid exhaustion. Don't worry about freezing to death while you sleep. Unless you are exhausted you will wake up before you freeze.

Before you leave your plane make sure that you are taking everything that will help you make your way back to civilization. Snowshoes, sledges and shelters can be made out of various parts of the plane. Cabin doors, main landing wheel doors and bomb bay doors make good sledges. Skis and snowshoes can be made by removing inspection panels, the cover strips over wing root joints, or tail-wheel doors, and lashing them to your feet with thongs or parachute shrouds. A section of engine cowl can be used as a container for melting water or for cooking, as a head shelter and windbreak for use with a sleeping bag, or as a fire shield for reflecting the heat into your lean-to or tent.

In the case of a forced landing made with wheels down on an ice floe when no rubber boat is available, an improvised raft can be made by removing the tires from your plane and lashing them together with wire and control cables. The wheels can be removed by stacking ice blocks under the wings so they will support the airplane and permit partial retraction of the landing gear. If there is sufficient time, fuel tanks can also be removed and used as floats. Such improvised rafts will help you cross open leads and short stretches of sea, providing the water is calm.

Before leaving your plane burn all papers, technical orders, and trip data that might be restricted, confidential or secret. Secret instruments should be smashed nd the parts buried or thrown into the sea.

Frostbite, or local freezing, is a constant danger to anyone exposed to the sub-zero temperatures of an Arctic winter. Strictly speaking, frostbite cannot be prevented but the risk can be minimized. To neglect a frostbittten spot is to invite gangrene.

There is no particular pain with frostbite. Quite the contrary, there is an absence of sensation, a numbness. Frostbite can occur without a person knowing it, so examine your face, hands, and feet frequently. The symptoms are stiffness and a grayish or whitish color of the part affected.

If you are frostbittten don't apply snow or ice. Instead, warm the affected part gradually. Don't rub the spot. Even the gentlest massage can do a great deal of harm. If frostbite appears on your face, warm it by grasping it with the other hand. Frozen hands and fingers can be thawed by holding them against your chest or under your armpits inside your clothes.

Frozen feet are particularly serious. Try to keep your feet from freezing but should the get frostbittten, take care of them immediately. Change to a warmer footgear if you can, or wrap them in cloth or fur until they thaw. Warm them, but don't put them close to a heater or fire. Warm them gradually.

A burning sensation follows the warming and thawing of a frozen part. The actual thawing may be extremely painful. After frostbite there may be blistering and peeling just as in sunburn.

Snowblindness is caused by the brilliant reflection or glare from the surface of snow. Avoid it like the plague, for once you have had one case, recurrences are likely to follow. Wear your goggles, either your flying goggles or your homemade wooden sun shields at all times during the daylight. Don't be fooled by an overcast day and on a brighter day remember that merely lifting your goggles a half dozen times may bring on snowblindness.

The first warning of snowblindness comes when you can no longer detect variations in the levels of ground. Later, your eyes will begin to burn, they will become inflamed and increasingly sensitive. They will pain when exposed even to a weak light.

The best medicine for snowblindness is complete darkness. During the long periods of daylight this will mean some sort of dark bandage to exclude all light. An ice compress or cold-water compress will bring some relief providing there is no danger of freezing.

In most cases, snowblindness will disappear in two or three days under care. When first used again the eyes see two of everything but normal focus soon returns.

In general, when an accident happens in the cold, shock is very likely to take place, especially if there is pain or bleeding. An injured person should be covered immediately with blankets, a tarpaulin, extra clothes or a sleeping bag. Keep the head and upper part of the body lower than the legs and lower part. Administer warm, non-alcoholic drinks and apply heat if possible to the chest, stomach, and thighs.

If it is necessary to use a tourniquet don't apply pressure too long at a stretch, as freezing my result. Even tight bandages can dangerously reduce blood circulation. If a tourniquet is necessary, keep the part beyond the tourniquet warm but do not heat it above body temperature.

From the middle of June to about the middle of September when the first of the heavy frosts come, the Arctic pest is the mosquito. Fortunately, Arctic mosquitoes and flies are not disease carriers but they are extremely bothersome and during the mosquito and fly season head nets, leggings, and gloves will be important parts of your clothing.

Sandflies, found in large numbers on the mainland, are most bothersome in the early afternoon, decreasing their activity as the evening cools. Know as punkies, midges, and "no-see-ums," they are persistent blood-suckers small enough to go through the usual netting or head net.

Bulldogs, sometimes called mooseflies, deerflies, or horseflies, look like overgrown house flies. Their bite is like the cut of a scalpel, drawing blood in a trickle. Bulldogs are most annoying on days. A head net, leggings, and gloves offer the best protection.

Blackflies are bad pests in certain Arctic areas, particularly in the forests during the summer months. Their bite causes severe swelling. Protection against them is the same as for mosquitoes and sandflies.

This article was originally published in the February, 194, issue of Flying magazine, vol 34, no 2, pp 54-56, 101, 105-106.
The PDF of this article includes drawings taken from the original AAF document.