How flight crew can deal with mental stressors after post-aircraft crash

Cabin Crew,Passengers

Aircraft crash is very rare but, If you’ve been in a crash, you might have experienced many different feelings. These could be at the time of the crash and in the days following it. Some of these feelings might have included [ shock, trouble believing it happened, anger, nervousness or worry, and fear or uneasiness].

This scenario shows us how is it difficult for an flight crew to deal with an aircraft accident at the time of the crash.

 Post an aircraft crash, the flight crew starts dealing with first aid or signaling. this is not what they should do, they must be able to deal with themselves mentally. In this article, I will try to list many mental stressors that can be involved in a post-crash survival situation. in addition, to how flight crew can deal with mental stressors successfully.

Post-aircraft crash | How flight crew can deal with mental stressors?

1- Post Crash Shock

Being suddenly introduced to a new and threatening environment can be a very traumatic experience. Aircraft crews' ability to handle this change will depend heavily on their mental state.

If they think randomly and/or irrationally they will act in the same way. After evacuating the aircraft and treating for injuries, they should sit down and take an objective look at their situation. If they have water, they should drink some of it [ passengers too], it will help them to think rationally and reduce the risk of shock.

2- Injury and Illness

Whatever affects the mind will, in turn, affect the body. This is the principle behind the whole-body concept. A continuous, nagging injury can take away from a positive mental attitude. Aircraft crews should remember that pain is the body's way of telling us something is wrong. They must treat the injury that causes pain. If the pain persists, they should keep their minds busy by doing the work necessary to be rescued.

3- Thirst and Hunger

 For the body and mind to act normally, they must have food and water. Water is essential to survival. Life expectancy without water, in extreme conditions, is three days. Even when flight crew are mildly dehydrated, mental skills decrease. When they feel thirsty, they are already dehydrated.

If they get into the aircraft thirsty, then they are also going in their survival experience dehydrated. By entering the aircraft already hydrated, they can prevent this.
When dealing with hunger, flight crew needs to remember that the average person can survive 30 days without food. Human beings are creatures of habit. We have established our eating schedule over many years (breakfast: 6 - 8 a.m., lunch: 11 a.m. - 1 p.m., dinner: 5 - 8 p.m.). During a survival episode, when these established times are upon them, the bodies are expected to be fed.

The expectation can be overwhelming. Aircraft crews should try to keep their minds off food by doing the things necessary to be rescued.

4- Cold and Heat

Most survival skills begin with common sense. If Aircraft Crew step outside [ of the aircraft] and it is cold, they must simply seek a warm shelter [ for all survivors]. The shelter may come in the form of a jacket or simply re-entering the aircraft. Either way, they have solved the problem.

5- Fatigue and Sleep Deprivation

Fatigue exists in two forms: physical fatigue and mental fatigue. Each form of fatigue will hasten the onset of the other (whole-body concept). Physical fatigue stems from overexertion. The best remedy is prevention. Flight Crew should try to pace themselves and take frequent rest breaks.

Mental fatigue is caused by the stress placed upon the mind. One remedy for this is to routinely take their minds off their situation. The best remedy for fatigue is rest and sleep. If they are fatigued, the best thing to do is sleep.

When sleeping, the muscles relax and the body unwinds. Also, it is believed that during sleep the mind releases useless information and resets its biological clock. Sleep may be difficult in this new environment, however, if sleep is put off even for a day, they will become fatigued.

6- Depression

Psychologically, this is potentially the biggest obstacle that flight crew as a survivor will have to overcome.  Or anyone in their group, who is suffering from depression will experience long periods of sadness or negative feelings. If they let depression progress then it can create feelings of fear, guilt, and helplessness. This may lead to a loss of interest in the basic needs of life.

Depression usually occurs after a person has fulfilled their basic needs, and when there is plenty of “down” time. Flight crew should keep their minds busy with productive thoughts, such as signaling or improving their shelter.
There are many reactions to stress, and they will vary from person to person. Fear, anxiety, panic, boredom, and helplessness are all common emotions experienced in a survival situation. If flight crew [ passengers too] don’t keep their emotions under control they can dramatically reduce their chances for survival.

7- Fear and Anxiety

Fear and anxiety are naturally occurring emotions. Anxiety is simply fear at the subconscious level and is described as a feeling of uneasiness. In this state, a person is worried about what might happen instead of what is happening. If anxiety is not dealt with, it can cause panic. Panic is an irrational state of mind and is counter-productive to a survival situation.
Fear is at the conscious level. Flight crew knows what frightens them. Fear left undealt with, may turn into panic. They must be in control of their fear. To control fear, they must learn to recognize it. Fear produces symptoms, both physiological and psychological. Flight crew needs to remember that the symptoms stem from the body going into "fight or flight" mode.

8- Panic

When faced with danger, people tend to panic or freeze. Uncontrollable irrational behavior tends to follow. This will vary, in degree, from person to person. Panic is brought on by sudden fear. If not dealt with it can rapidly spread through an entire group.
Once recognized positive action should be taken by flight crew to control the fear. These positive steps, along with knowledge and training, will enhance their will to survive. Training can help them recognize their reactions to fear.

Through training, Aircraft crews should learn to Think, Plan, and Act logically, when confronted with fear.

9- Boredom and Hopelessness

Boredom may be accompanied by feelings of anxiety, strain, or depression. Aircraft crew should stay mentally focused on the positive task. If there are multiple survivors, Flight crew may split up the equipment, and tasks, into responsibility areas. These responsibilities could include signaling, first aid, water procurement, etc. The key is to continually be working the mind towards positive and productive thoughts.
Preparing for an aircraft crash that may rarely occur is not always easy. However, if the aircraft crew [ passengers too] take the time to prepare themselves both mentally and physically, their chances of survival will increase dramatically.

Having the right frame of mind and being able to think productively are critical. Knowing the intended use of gear, or the ability to improvise using gear increases confidence and ultimately their chances of survival.
Throughout their survival experience, it will be imperative to keep up a positive mental attitude. Having a positive outlook may be the difference between success and failure. A positive mental attitude will be tested by many factors.

These factors will test the flight crew's ability to cope with the situation and will test their will to survive.

Maged Saeed AL-Hadabi

I’m Instructor / Maged Saeed Al-Hadabi. ​ Air Cargo / IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations / Safety Management System Senior Instructor, Auditor [ Yemen Airways] . Approved IATA DGR/ SMS Instructor by Yemen Civil Aviation Authority.

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