I recently learned of a business executive who sold his company jet (single pilot operation) after his corporate pilot (in his 50ies) fell to the ground during the pre-flight inspection of the aircraft and died. He and his family were about to go on a trip. Very lucky guy. Obviously, he could have just paid for a qualified 2nd pilot to always fly in the right seat, but thats not the point of this question.

It got me to thinking. Is it possible to revive a pilot who has stopped breathing and/or who's heart has stopped beating in a small aircraft in a seated position? Assuming of course aircraft is in cruise with plenty of altitude.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't think this question is answerable. It depends entirely on what was wrong with the pilot. Fainted from hyperventilation, yeah. Massive coronary, no. $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Jul 15 '17 at 17:54
  • $\begingroup$ A qualified answer will be acceptable (i.e. CPR for respiratory arrest is possible in seated position, etc.). $\endgroup$ – Devil07 Jul 15 '17 at 17:57
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    $\begingroup$ This depends on the medical condition of the pilot and (sorry to say) has nothing to do with aviation. Perhaps Health.SE is better? $\endgroup$ – kevin Jul 15 '17 at 18:05
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    $\begingroup$ CPR won't work in a seated position. You can't produce enough pressure to move blood to the brain. You have to lie the victim down on a hard surface to even have a chance. Even at that, some studies have shown that only about 2% of people who receive CPR outside of a hospital end up surviving long enough to be released from the hospital $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Jul 15 '17 at 18:07
  • $\begingroup$ It is an aeromedical question, but feel free to down vote it if you don't approve. $\endgroup$ – Devil07 Jul 15 '17 at 18:49

I'm going to preface this by saying I'm not a doctor, however I am trained in first aid and CPR.

If you are asking whether it would be possible to revive someone who is in respiratory or cardiac arrest to the point where they could fly again then the answer is absolutely not.

The movies make it seem like you can give CPR and 2 minutes later the person is running around shooting guns, however that's very far from the truth. CPR and rescue breathing are techniques which can, if done properly, keep someone's blood moving enough that radical emergency medicine may save their life. CPR cracks and/or breaks ribs and can cause internal injuries even when it's done right, rescue breathing doesn't generally cause injury, however anyone who has needed either will require days, weeks or even months of intensive care and recovery.

As to whether it would be possible to administer CPR or rescue breathing to someone in a light airplane then I would say yes, with extreme difficulty and a low chance of success. CPR requires a lot of force, you use the full weight of your upper body concentrated on one single point on the person's chest, unless you could lay the person flat on a hard surface you'd probably be wasting your time, so if the seats reclined a person in the back seat may be able to lean over and do it, although that's extremely chancy of working due to the angle and the cushioning of the seat. Rescue breathing is possible with a seated person, provided you can open the airway, getting the angle on that would be very tricky in the constrained area of a small cockpit. Again, if the seat could recline a person in the back would have a better chance of doing this.

Most importantly to remember is that if the sole pilot dies or becomes incapacitated someone else has to fly the airplane. Struggling to get into position to perform CPR or mouth to mouth on a seated person would be a great way to snag the stick and send the airplane out of control. If there's a back seater by all means let them give it a shot, but your best bet at survival is getting control of the airplane and calling ATC for someone to talk you through things, it's happened before and has a remarkably good survival rate.

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  • $\begingroup$ Good analysis. I have CPR certification also, and I was trained that they must be on a hard surface for compressions to work. I agree that position and cushion of seat probably makes CPR not effective. Although, like you said, rescue breathing might work if heart is still good. According to Google, some of the conditions giving rise to rescue breathing include, among other things, carbon monoxide poisoning, severe asthma attack, and choking. These are things that could affect a pilot, but it sounds like you're saying anything that stops heart could not be addressed. $\endgroup$ – Devil07 Jul 15 '17 at 20:35
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    $\begingroup$ That about sums it up @Devil07 $\endgroup$ – GdD Jul 15 '17 at 20:37
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    $\begingroup$ "...calling ATC for someone to talk you through things, it's happened before and has a remarkably good survival rate." For the passengers that is, the pilot who suffers cardiac arrest in the cockpit has a remarkably low survival rate :) $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Jul 15 '17 at 23:05
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    $\begingroup$ Cardiac arrest tends to not end well @RonBeyer. $\endgroup$ – GdD Jul 16 '17 at 8:55
  • $\begingroup$ Was very tempted to downvote for the missed opportunity to open this with, "dammit man, I'm a CPR-trained pilot, not a doctor!" ;) $\endgroup$ – yshavit Jul 17 '17 at 7:40

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