Search and Rescue

Emergency Search and Rescue phases

Safety, Search and Rescue

Tuesday 18 October, 2016

Emergency phases are based on the level of concern for the safety of persons, vessels or aircraft. Upon initial notification, the notified SAR authority or ATS unit classifies the SAR incident as being in one of the three following emergency phases:

a) Uncertainty Phase (INCERFA).

b) Alert Phase (ALERFA).

c) Distress Phase (DETRESFA).

The emergency phase may be reclassified as the situation develops. The current emergency phase should be used in all communications about the SAR incident as a means of informing all interested parties of the current level of concern for the safety of persons or craft which may be in need of assistance.

 

Uncertainty Phase (INCERFA)

The uncertainty phase is assigned any time doubt exists as to the safety of a craft or person because of knowledge of possible difficulties, or because of lack of information concerning progress or position. The key word is DOUBT.

An Uncertainty Phase is said to exist when there is knowledge of a situation that may need to be monitored, or to have more information gathered, but that does not require dispatching of resources. When there is doubt about the safety of an aircraft, ship, other craft or people, the situation should be investigated and information gathered.

For aircraft, an INCERFA is declared when:

a) No communication has been received from an aircraft within a period of fifteen (15) minutes after the time a communication should have been received, or from the time an unsuccessful attempt to establish communication with such aircraft was first made, whichever is earlier.

b) An aircraft fails to report departure from a Mandatory Broadcast Zone (MBZ) or non-standard Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) area after a call notifying readiness to taxi or take-off or after an airborne call from within a MBZ or CTAF area, within five (5) minutes after estimate for the boundary.

c) An aircraft fails to arrive within 15 minutes of the last estimated time of arrival last notified to or estimated by ATS units; whichever is later, except when no doubt exists as to the safety of the aircraft and its occupants.

 

Alert Phase

The alert phase is assigned any time apprehension exists for the safety of a craft or person because of definite information that serious difficulty exists which does not amount to a distress or because of a continued lack of information concerning progress or position. The key word is APPREHENSION.

An Alert Phase exists when an aircraft, ship or other craft, or persons are having some difficulty and may need assistance, but are not in immediate danger.

Apprehension is usually associated with the Alert Phase, but there is no known threat requiring immediate action. SAR units may be dispatched or other SAR assets diverted to provide assistance if it is believed that conditions might worsen or that SAR assets might not be available or able to provide assistance If conditions did worsen at a later time.

For overdue craft, the Alert Phase is considered when there is a continued lack of information concerning the progress or position of a craft. SAR resources should begin or continue communications searches, and the dispatch of SRUs to investigate high-probability location or overfly the craft’s intended route should be considered. Vessels and aircraft passing through areas where the concerned craft might be located should be asked to maintain a sharp lookout, report all sightings and render assistance if needed.

An Alert Phase is declared when:

a) Following the Uncertainty Phase, subsequent attempts to establish communication with the aircraft, ship or craft or missing persons have failed or inquiries to other relevant sources have failed to reveal any news.

b) An aircraft has been cleared to land and fails to land within five (5) minutes of the estimated time of landing and communication has not been re-established with the aircraft. 

c) Information has been received which indicates that the operating efficiency of the aircraft, ship or other craft has been impaired but noy to the extent that a forced landing or distress situation is likely, except when evidence exists that would allay apprehension as to the safety of that craft and its occupants.

d) An aircraft is known or believed to be the subject of unlawful interference. 


Distress Phase

The distress phase is assigned whenever immediate assistance is required by a craft or person threatened by grave or imminent danger or because of continued lack or information concerning progress or position. The key words are GRAVE or IMMINENT DANGER and IMMEDIATE ASSISTANCE.

The Distress Phase exists when there is reasonable certainty that an aircraft, ship or craft of persons are in imminent danger and require immediate assistance. For overdue craft, a distress exists when communications searches and other forms of investigation have not succeeded in locating the craft or revising its ETA so that it is no longer considered overdue. If there is sufficient concern for the safety of a craft and the persons aboard to justify search operations, the incident should be classified as being in the Distress Phase.

For aircraft, a Distress Phase is declared when:

a) Following the Alert Phase, the further unsuccessful attempts to establish communication with the aircraft and more widespread unsuccessful inquiries point to the probability that the aircraft is in distress.

b) The fuel on board is considered to be exhausted, or to be insufficient to enable the aircraft to reach safety.

c) Information is received which indicates that the operating efficiency of the aircraft has been impaired to the extent that a forced landing is likely.

d) Information is received or it is reasonably certain that the aircraft is about to make or has made a forced landing, except when there is reasonable certainty that the aircraft and its occupants do not require immediate assistance.

e) A report is received that a radio distress beacon has been activated or other visual distress signals have been observed.

 

Phase Transition

When the distressed craft has been located and the survivors rescued, the RCC will terminate the SAR operation, close the case and immediately advise the operating agency, the reporting source and any alerted authorities, centres and services.

(Reference: NATSAR Manual, 2014, pp. 78-81)