Report on The Okanagan Survival Shakedown


The second BCGA Survival Shakedown was held on April 22-23, 2017 in Kelowna, BC. This survival training event is designed to give pilots an opportunity to get acquainted with and practice using their on board aircraft survival kit. 

The group of 18 members and 4 Instructors met at the Kelowna Flying Club on Saturday morning. At the pre-briefing the group was treated to a comprehensive presentation given by Shaun Glass, a retired Canadian Forces  Search and Rescue Technician and current volunteer member of the Central Fraser Valley Search & Rescue Team.

We were also fortunate to have the support of Dan & Philip from Central Okanagan Search & Rescue. Dan & Phil gave a safety briefing and we loaded up in vehicles for the 35minute drive up a forestry road East of the Kelowna Airport. The site was at 4000’asl and located in a forested area that had a good amount of snow and a lot of very wet wood.

The conditions for the exercise were challenging. We could not have ordered a better weather sequence to prove the importance of an adequate survival kit. When we got to the airport in the morning it was a beautiful sunny day. Upon reaching the site of the exercise participants walked through knee deep snow to get to their individual sites and most started the exercise with cold wet feet.  It was still nice out with a high overcast developing. Two hours into the exercise as the participants were working on their fires and shelters the sky opened up and unleashed heavy rain that lasted for a few hours.

The wrath of the rain storm left most of the participants very wet and those that did not have a fire going before the rain had a tough time working with all the saturated wood that the storm left in its path. Darkness set in and the next challenge presented itself when the skies cleared to reveal millions of stars with a subsequent sharp drop in temperatures to -6 overnight. 

Throughout the exercise the instructors made rounds to check on the participants’ well being and to give hints and tips as to how to improve their set-up. The majority of the participants slept with little more than the clothes on their back and an emergency space blanket. Some had basic sleeping bags in their survival kits but in keeping with the theme of only using what you actually carry we were surprised and impressed by the number of participants that held true to the minimalist approach. 

Some of the participants grabbed their survival kits out of their planes on the way to the exercise without checking the contents and were shocked to find that some key items were missing such as tools to cut wood or a tarp for shelter. The instructors offered them replacement items but in keeping with the theme of the exercise, all declined citing that if this was a real situation they would not have had the items and would make due without them. 

One of the key lessons that was learned by some of the participants is to dress appropriately for the terrain that you are flying over and to periodically check the contents of your kit before you need to rely on it. Cotton is a bad idea especially if you are going to be stuck in wet and cold conditions.

Throughout the night participants fought to find the balance of trying to get some seep, staying warm, and keeping their fire going.  Due to the cold and wet conditions it was imperative that everyone kept their fires going all night long or face the very real and present risk of hypothermia.

This exercise was meant to introduce pilots to the contents of their survival kit and to have them put some thought into the contents of the kit. It was not an episode of survivor man where we withhold, starve and torture the attendees. It is for this reason that as the pilots emerged shortly before sunrise they gathered at Frank’s raging fire to enjoy a muffin and hot chocolate  to warm up some chilly and weary bones. 

After a warm drink and a snack the participants were lead in a walk through, where all the attendees as a group visited each and every camp to learn and discuss what went right and what didn’t for each individual pilot. 

Once the walk through was complete, the group cleaned up and returned the forest to its original state ensuring that all fires were completely extinguished and all shelters were taken down. The group then gathered for a signal fire demonstration, fire extinguisher demonsration and prizes were awarded for best camp, and most ingenuity followed by the issuing of completion certificates. 

The BCGA is very proud and grateful to have had the support of Central Okanagan Search and Rescue. They provided their vehicles & equipment for this event and 2 of their members volunteered their weekend to instruct our pilots. As a small token of our appreciation, the BCGA donated the remaining $200 from the course fees after expenses to COSAR.

We are very fortunate to have had the support of the Kelowna Flying Club, COSAR and Shaun Glass for this event. This is the second time that despite having no direct connection to our community Shaun has volunteered his weekend to help us make this event happen.

Lastly, we are very proud of our members that came to the event. Despite snow, rain, and cold not one person complained and every single participant embraced the exercise and truly brought nothing more than their typical survival kit. Well done pilots! We look forward to offering this course again in the future!

Note On Course Fees:
One of the core values of the BCGA is to keep our activities affordable for our members. We do not charge a membership fee and rely on members to voluntarily contribute if they feel that they are getting value from what we do. The Survival Shakedown is a net zero event meaning that after costs we distribute all remaining funds to the local SAR team.

The first 2 sessions of this course had a nominal course fee to cover costs. Most would agree that this fee was very low for what the course had to offer. This was based on the fact that our instructors despite having no ties to general aviation volunteered their time. Moving forward we would like to compensate our NON-BCGA professional instructors for the expert knowledge that they bring.

The first two installations of this course were meant to prove the concept and we are more certain now than ever before that this training is a must have for every pilot and anyone who ventures into or operates and aircraft over the backcountry. Future courses will have a registration fee that better reflects the value that this course provides while keeping it affordable (probably in line with the cost of a 1 hour aircraft rental).