What would you carry: Follow up

A while back, I challenged you to share your ideas on what tool from your workshop would be your choice to carry, above and beyond what is normally in your pockets, into one of three “lone survivor” scenarios. This exercise was all in fun, but hopefully in caused you to think about the way you normally use your tools, and even more about how they could be used under different circumstances.

The whole point was to force ourselves to examine these tools in a new light, and gain a better understanding of how they work. Hopefully, that will lead to more efficient and effective use of those tools in the shop.

In any case, I promised to share MY tool of choice, and hinted that TSA restrictions would affect my choice. Obviously, this means I chose scenario #1, the commercial airliner crash in the Canadian Rockies.

First, let’s consider my EDC (Every Day Carry) items. These things will be found on my person any time I leave the house:

  • Cross-training sneakers, with laces
  • Blue jeans
  • Leather wallet containing cash, ID, assorted cards
  • Keyring with a few keys and a USB memory stick
  • “Tinker” model Swiss Army knife by Victorinox (disallowed by TSA)
  • Lip balm
  • Smart phone
  • A few coins
  • A belt, usually cotton web with metal buckle
  • Cotton Tee shirt

Considering that I live in the SouthEastern US, and the flight crashed in the Canadian Rockies, it seems safe to assume that my destination was a colder climate. Given that assumption, it is reasonable for me to also have about my person:

  • Another shirt layer, with long sleeves
  • A light jacket, most likely a knit hoodie with zippered front

Now let’s consider what I would normally carry on:

  • A smallish bag with shoulder strap
  • Charger and USB cable for my phone
  • Passport and copies of my tickets
  • A change of underclothes and socks
  • Sunglasses (and at my age, a pair of reading glasses, too!)

The one tool I would like to have from my shop at this point, given that TSA would not allow me to bring any sort of edged or pointed tool, is going to be …..

  • a new, unsharpened ,wooden carpenter’s pencil. (didn’t see that coming, did you?)

OK, I have a fairly good inventory of usable materials, but nothing that will keep me from freezing to death is short order. Time to start scaveging from the wreckage. Let’s assume I was flying in a Boeing 737. The tail section behind the last row of seats will have two lavatories, a galley station, the APU (Auxilliary Power Unit) and the control mechanisms for the rudder and elevators.
Given these facts, I should be able to collect these items from the wreckage:

  • Scraps of metal from the fuselage, from which to form cutting tools.
  • Seat upholstery and padding to fashion protective wear.
  • Scavenged outer wear from overhead compartments (possibly).
  • Drinkable water from the galley.
  • Portable containers from the galley.
  • Snacks (well, peanuts, anyway) from the galley.
  • Toilet paper from the lavatories (useful as tinder, and as trail markers. Aside from its more obvious use!)
  • Fuel from the APU (possibly), to assist in starting a fire.
  • Hardened steel components from the APU or flight controls, for making a better cutting tool and/or defensive weapon.
  • Many feet of wire, useful as lashing or cordage.
  • Assorted sizes of metallic and flexible tubing, from the tail controls hydraulic systems.
  • Battery from the APU starting circuit (possibly).

With this wealth of resources at hand, I need to consider the immediate threats to my health and safety. Being high in the mountains, avoiding hypothermia is the highest priority. My first action would be to remove the extra underclothes and socks from my carry on bag, and don them. The extra layers will help reduce loss of body heat. Next, I would scrounge through any storage compartments for other items of clothing that could add more layers. Blankets, also. Using any sharp pieces of metal from the fuselage, I might even rip open the seat cushions for additional insulation.

Next, I would collect all the food and water I could find in the wreck, while searching for ways to ignite a fire. The galley probably has canned drinks and bottled water. Probably packaged snack foods as well. However, precautions against the risk of fire on an aircraft mean I am unlikely to find a simple ignition source.

Assuming my smart phone survived the crash, I would try to call for help, but cellular signal is likely to be lacking in the mountains. However, it might still be useful as a GPS device and magnetic compass. And there may be signal at some distance from the crash site. In any case, with a working phone, I would try to locate myself, and determine the shortest route to help. Without it, I would plan to strike out for the gravel road at the base of the mountain, and follow it down hill.

Remaining at the crash site, and using the remains of the airplane as a shelter, I might survive a few days on the supplies from the galley. Assuming I can keep warm, that is. The Canadian Rockies, while not having as high an average elevation as the US Rockies, are in the Northern temperate to sub-arctic latitudes, and have a lower tree line than the Rocky Mountains in the US. This means the chances are good that my crash site is above the tree line, making fuel for a fire difficult to find.

Let’s assume I am able to locate some dry scrub brush, enough to kindle a small fire. Using lint from my socks, and perhaps some paper from the lavatory, I should be able to ignite a fire from friction, using a bow drill fashioned from seat frame tubing and shoelaces. The fire might be supplimented with combustable matetials from the seats, carpet, paper from the lavs and galley, even clothing items that may be found in the last row overhead bins. But a day or two is about all that could last. If rescue isn’t obvious by that time, self-extraction takes priority.

To prepare to travel down the mountain, I would gather all the clothing, blankets, or galley curtains I could find to keep me warm. My carry bag, and perhaps a seat cushion cover could hold all the food and water I could carry. Anything I couldn’t carry should be consumed before leaving the shelter, rather than left and wasted. Something to remember is that modern snack packaging is often made from plastic sheeting that is aluminized (reflective) on one side. This material can be used to conserve body heat by placing it against the skin, silver side inward, over critical areas. The neck and wrists especially, as they have blood vessels close to the surface. It can also line socks or mittens to reduce the risk of frost bite. In fact, snack bags often come in sizes that make excellent emergency mittens.

Now for the first use of my pencil – scraping a point on it with a rock or metal shard, I would use one of the papers from my pack and leave a note for any search and rescue team, telling who I was and which direction I was taking. Also the date and time of my departure, and my cell number in case I made it into an area with signal.

With my supplies bundled and tied to carry like a simple pack, I would consider the terrain. A sturdy walking stick or staff would be excellent for maintaining balance while climbing down the mountain. If a suitable woodwn stick was not handy, there would likely be a length of conduit or tubing in the wreckage that would serve. If necessary, crude snowshoes might be fashioned from wire and hoops of hydraulic tubing in the tail controls. Also, the tail galley should contain a first aid kit of some sort. That would be an extremely useful item to take along.

With these items prepared, I would start down the mountain, toward the faint gravel road at the base. Great care must be taken in such a climb, as a fall could result in an injury that would rob me of my mobility.

Depending on the altitude of the crash site, I may not reach the road before dark, and need to camp on the mountainside overnight. In this case, I would take advantage of the terrain and environment, and pick a spot with the least amount of wind exposure. A crevice between rocks, or a cluster of trees. I would avoid deeper holes or tunnels, as these might be animal dens, with the occupant only temporarily absent!

Once the site was chosen, improving the shelter and making a fire would be top priority. In this cold climate, lying on the possibly frozen ground would be a mistake. Making a mattress from most of the insulating materials at hand would protect me from loss of heat to the frozen ground. Anything left could be used for cover. In this case, the fire would be more important as a signal to search and rescue, and to ward off the wildlife, than to provide heat. Of course, heating food or water is an excellent way to transfer heat into the body from a small fire. If plastic drink bottles were salvaged from the galley, they can be placed above the fire, and even heated to boiling, so long as the flames don’t contact the empty part of the bottle. Such a container would allow snow to be melted for water, also.

To start a fire, my carpenter’s pencil might come into play again. The dry cedar wood of these pencils can make excellent kindling, although not much of it. Also, the soft graphite core can be used with electricity to generate heat for ignition! Unfortunately, the only source of electricity at hand is my cell phone battery. Fully charged, it only produces 3.8 volts. In order to concentrate enough current to generate heat to ignite tinder, I might be able to scrape a bit of graphite powder from the pencil lead, and form it into a thin, but continuous line through the tinder. Using some of the salvaged wire, I could connect the battery to each end of the graphite line to create a tiny heating element and ignite my fire. This is a “last ditch effort” idea, as the chances it will work are not good, and it would quickly drain the battery.

Assuming I made it through the night, the best use for my handy carpenter’s pencil is to leave messages for search and rescue, with date, time, and direction of travel. The pencil should mark clearly enough on the rocks commonly found in this area.

Continuing down to the roadway in the valley, my next decision would be which way to follow the road. A dirt track through the wilderness is unlikely to have many signs posted along the way, so my choice would be to follow the road down hill. I would continue to leave occasional messages for search and rescue to find, and hope that my food and water lasted long enough to get me through.


So, what do you think of this little adventure? Does a pencil seem like a useful tool to have along for emergencies? I’d love to hear what you think!

Until next time,

Savor the Sawdust


Leave a Reply