I found the recent SeaTac incident with a suicidal pilot frightening. I myself remember being in very bad places mentally, and it got me to wonder what I should do if someone is on frequency, making dangerous maneuvers, and clearly has lost all hope and interest in life.

I looked through FAA guidelines and ICAO standards prior to posting this, and the only conclusion I could make is there is only an IMSAFE for you, and not for others.

But in the age of very realistic flight simulators, aviation can seem like a simple, beautiful, fun, and quick way to end one's life. If I am witnessing this, audibly on frequency and / or visually, what do I do? IMSAFE, but how about them?

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    $\begingroup$ A reference and brief summary would be helpful, perhaps seattletimes.com/seattle-news/… $\endgroup$
    – Bit Chaser
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 0:20
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    $\begingroup$ Would be grateful if anyone could post a link withoud Adwall (No offense to @bitchaser, of course) :) $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 6:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Krumia Not sure if this is any better, but at least I haven't seen an adwall... $\endgroup$
    – Mast
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 6:37
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    $\begingroup$ For clarification, when you say, "If I am witnessing this," from what perspective are you referring to witnessing it? As another pilot? As an air traffic controller? As NORAD? Something else? $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 8:36
  • $\begingroup$ Well, for a ground mechanic, he sure knew how to fly well :/ $\endgroup$
    – Cloud
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 13:46

3 Answers 3


On frequency, if control is responding to the distressed aircraft you should stay quiet and let them work the problem. This would not be a great time to ask for flight following or traffic advisories and you should expect neither. You should be listening for instructions broadcast to all aircraft in the area and possibly an announcement to change frequencies.

A controller may try and hand some aircraft off if possible to ease their load.

Depending on your situation, and if possible, it may be warranted for you to fly out of the area, or avoid it if you are inbound. In some cases ATC will work to get the aircraft to stay in an altitude block if you can hear this assignment, you should stay clear of that block.

It's not really your responsibility to play chase plane but reporting things on frequency may be warranted if the channel is free, you are not stepping on a controllers attempt to contact anyone, and the information is pertinent to the situation. Perhaps you saw the aircraft crash site from the air; if you can provide a definitive location it may warrant reporting. Saying something like, "Hey I see that guy" is not really helpful especially considering today's radar (although coverage is far from perfect) and soon to be ADS-B systems.

It is unequivocally NOT your place to attempt to contact or otherwise interact with the distressed aircraft. This will only increase confusion and create a situation where you are potentially contradicting what ATC is saying. To address your specific situation, controllers on the ground have the ability to get the required people on the line to work the problem. If someone with suicidal intentions is on the frequency controllers will respond (and in this case did respond) in a proper manner. It is not your place to attempt to talk to them as you are likely unqualified to do so and will likely worsen matters.

As a slight caveat to the above statement, there is one instance in which you as a pilot should get involved. In some areas of the country (or the world for that matter) where facilities are far apart and radio coverage at low altitudes is limited you may be in a situation where you can relay important information to a station that is with in your range but out of range of the aircraft in distress. In this case it is important to know this is the case and that you are not simply in range of an aircraft but out of range of the facility they are communicating with. If the distressed aircraft is making repeated, uniform calls with no clear response you may consider contacting approach and asking if they are aware of the situation. This is a very specific case and should be handled as a one-off on a case-by-case basis.

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    $\begingroup$ Is the ATC transcript available to read from this incident anywhere? $\endgroup$
    – Cloud
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 13:49
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    $\begingroup$ I have to disagree with this. Without question your first priority is the safe conduct of your own flight, and you should never act so as to interfere with other operations. But if you're in a position to help safely, you should absolutely offer to do so in my book. If ATC is involved as in this case, respect their management of the situation (don't try to run the show). Maybe you have some educational background on suicide intervention. Or maybe you feel you can assist in some other situation. If you're willing, my vote is to offer, so long as it does not compromise safety. $\endgroup$
    – TypeIA
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 17:03
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    $\begingroup$ @TypeIA I agree and I do mention a few cases where you should get involved but ATC has a lot of resources on had, and the chances that your suicide prevention training exceeds what ATC can get on the line is for sure an edge case and I agree it may be appropriate to speak up if that were the very specific scenario. $\endgroup$
    – Dave
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 17:11
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    $\begingroup$ It can take ATC a long time to get appropriate experts involved. They don't exactly have teams of psychiatrists and pilots, qualified on all aircraft types ATC might encounter, on speed dial. If you feel qualified to help, offer; don't wait for ATC to find someone more qualified. They might not in time. Other than that I think fundamentally we're on the same page. $\endgroup$
    – TypeIA
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 17:16
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    $\begingroup$ @TypeIA well, It actually depends on what it means "if you feel qualify to help"; many people may think that can help in one way or another. But in doing so they might doing the opposite. Plus the ATC is taking care of not that particular person alone but the safety of others on the ground and other pilots in the vicinity as well; if you congest the comm trying to change his mind you may endanger the life of others. I will stick with the procedure in that scenario. Follow ATC. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 21, 2018 at 7:52

Do not respond to irrelevant chatter on aviation frequencies.

There are already way too many people who think it is ok to chit chat and joke on the radio while they are flying.

Not only does this distract the participants, but it distracts other pilots in the area and prevents other pilots from using the channel for constructive purposes.

If you are flying, focus on flying your aircraft at all times. You should not be socializing or playing amateur psychologist or doing anything else except flying.

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    $\begingroup$ Not disagreeing with the "too many people ... " part; but a distressed pilot who's in the air is not chit chat or a joke. $\endgroup$
    – UKMonkey
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 10:53
  • $\begingroup$ UKMonkey read my mind. Chit chat is an issue, but putting someone with dangerous intent at the yoke turns that airplane into a weapon. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 23:02
  • $\begingroup$ Chit chat, schmit schmat, suicide, schmuicide. All irrelevant to the task of flying my aircraft safely. This answer should be deleted. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 30, 2018 at 0:42

ATC has no problem asking for help when they need it; I've been asked if I was willing to chase and identify (but not intercept, of course) other planes that busted airspace, and I've heard on LiveATC them asking folks to help locate the site of a forced landing and report condition. I'm sure most folks would help--and ATC knows it. So, if they don't ask, it's safest to assume they don't need your help (i.e. interference).

In the particular case of a suicidal pilot, also consider that trying to play shrink while behind the stick could easily distract you enough that you are the one to crash and kill people. Leave that to the folks sitting in comfy chairs on the ground and focus on flying your own plane--preferably away from the immediate area so they can focus on the nutjob instead of you.


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