There’s a saying in aviation that no pilot ever starts out to have an accident, but accidents do happen, even to the most experienced and cautious pilots. Every pilot should know what to do when an accident happens to ensure that no regulations have been violated and insurance matters are handled properly and expediently.
Here are the first three things you must do immediately after an accident.
First, address the medical condition of everyone and get medical help if required. It’s important to get far away from the airplane. You don’t know if there will be a fire, so get safely at a distance. Depending on where you are—at an airport or out in a field—you may have to notify the authorities. If you’re at an airport, your accident will probably be evident, but if you’re on a highway or in a field, you need to call 911.
Once authorities arrive, your airplane will be moved to a secure location to protect your aircraft from further damage and to prevent it from becoming a safety hazard to others. Before that happens, however, you need to take photos of your airplane from every angle. You will want to be able to show the damage to the aircraft prior to it being moved. If you had a gear-up landing and the damage is to the belly and the prop, lifting the airplane by a crane may cause further damage. Also take photos of the scene.
Now what? You’ll need to determine whether you had an accident or an incident. There are precise definitions of each in the federal aviation regulations. If you taxi off the runway and get stuck in the mud, that’s probably an incident. But if you taxi off the runway and your airplane flips, that’s an accident You might want to review the regulations to understand the difference. When in doubt—if you’re not sure if you had an accident or an incident—report it to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). This is important: You are required by law to report your accident.
Contact the NTSB’s 24-hour Response Operations Center at 844/373-9922 to file a report. A phone call is sufficient initially, but you may be asked to file a written follow-up report.
Then it’s time to call your insurance agency. Your agency is the liaison between you and your adjuster. When you call your insurance agency, be prepared with the following information:
When the adjuster calls, he or she will most likely want to see your medical certificate, flight logbook, and possibly the aircraft logs.
You may not be required to carry proof of insurance in your airplane as you have to in your car in many states. However, it’s a good idea to keep a copy of your insurance binder, along with the business card from your insurance agent stapled to it, in your logbook or elsewhere in the airplane. That way, there is no frantic searching for the paperwork at a time when you need to remain calm.
Unfortunately, you may have been seriously injured in the accident, so it’s also a good idea for your spouse, adult child, or someone with access to your personal business to have a copy of your insurance binder. That way the person who is looking after you will be able to contact the insurance company on your behalf. It’s not a pleasant task, but make sure this person understands what to do if you can’t act on your own.
AOPA hopes this is information you never have to use, but if you do have an accident, you can rely on AOPA Insurance to provide service that is caring, personal, and efficient. AOPA Insurance offers knowledgeable agents who understand your unique flying and insurance requirements. For more information or to request a free quote on aircraft insurance, please call AOPA Insurance Services at 800/622-AOPA (2672) or visit aopainsurance.org. Don’t forget: You may qualify for a 5-percent discount just for being an AOPA member.