Accidents and emergencies

Travelling by plane is the safest way to travel long-distance. Australia is also one of the safest places in the world to fly. 

This is because aviation places its highest priority on safety – from airlines, ground crew, airports, air traffic controllers, and the safety authority.

Despite this, emergencies will arise from time-to-time. That's why it is important for you to know and understand what systems are in place in the unlikely event of an emergency.

In-flight emergencies

An in-flight emergency can range from:

  • an engine failure
  • a systems or technology failure
  • reports of smoke or fire in the cabin 
  • running low on fuel.

Pilots and cabin crews regularly train to respond to a range of different emergencies.

The pilot in command may speak to air traffic controllers to seek information and advice. This may include seeking advice on where to land, asking for a priority landing or asking for aviation firefighters to be on standby.

There are 2 different categories of in-flight emergencies. The pilot communicates this to air traffic controllers through an emergency declaration.

A 'mayday' call indicates an aircraft is in grave and imminent danger and requires immediate assistance.

A 'pan' call describes a less urgent situation but where the pilot still requires attention and assistance.

Air traffic control will always prioritise aircraft that make an emergency declaration.

Aviation fire fighters

Airservices provides aviation rescue firefighting services at Australia's busiest airports. Firefighters must respond to any incident on airport within minutes.

For airports without specialised aviation fire fighters, local emergency services will respond to any incident.

You can read more about aviation rescue and fire fighting services on Airservices website.

Search and rescue

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) is responsible for search and rescue coordination, including for aviation incidents.

Their search and rescue coordination centre coordinates search and rescue efforts. A search and rescue will start either when they get a notification there’s been an accident or receive a distress signal from an emergency beacon. 

They will coordinate with local emergencies services as required to assist in the response.

Accident investigation

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is responsible for investigating the cause of an aircraft accident under Australian and international legislation.

Read more about how we share and use safety information.

We will cooperate with the ATSB on any urgent safety issues raised throughout the independent investigation.

Last updated:
22 May 2024
Online version available at:
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