Posts: 168
Joined: Sat Oct 16, 1999 5:18 pm

Pan, Pan, Pan Vs. Mayday

Fri Oct 22, 1999 4:20 pm


I was reading through the audio transcript of the last minutes of Swissair 111 and I had a few questions regarding the procedures in declaring an emergency. I hope it is appropriate for me to post this.

I was just wondering under what circumstances does one a crew issue a "Pan, Pan, Pan" vs. a "Mayday" call. Also, does a pilot have to "declare an emergency" formally at that point?

Why does the pilot say "Swissair 111 Heavy"...why the "heavy" part?

Thanks for any input.


RE: Pan, Pan, Pan Vs. Mayday

Fri Oct 22, 1999 5:12 pm

PAN PAN ( expressed 3 times ) is an indication from the crew that some urgent situation has showed up. That can be a pass. who has become serious ill so the flight have to be diverted to a nearby suitable airport where medical care can be obtained. When a PAN PAN - message is sent, there's no immediate danger for the safety of the pass., crew or aircraft.

MAYDAY ( also expressed 3 times ), on the other side, is and indication of a dangerous situation has risen and immediate action is needed to try to save pass., crew and aircraft. All other traffic in the area are obliged to assist if possible. The aircraft that sent the MAYDAY - message will be given absolute priority and other aircraft aware of the situation are obliged to maintain radiosilence as long as the situation is critical and the distress situation has not been ended.
There is nothing called "decleare an emergency". When someone make a MAYDAY - call they ARE in an emergency and all needed action in relation to the emergency shall be taken care of by ATC or other aircraft if needed.

And finally the term "heavy" after callsign is, as far as I know, just an indication to ATC that the aircraft is heavy loaded and separation have to be according to that.
Hope this was some kind of answer to your questions!!

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RE: Pan, Pan, Pan Vs. Mayday

Fri Oct 22, 1999 6:34 pm

I think that the term "Heavy" is to describe the a/c as a widebody, and/or an a/c with 3 or more engines...?
Posts: 378
Joined: Fri Sep 17, 1999 9:52 am

RE: Pan, Pan, Pan Vs. Mayday

Fri Oct 22, 1999 11:15 pm

"Heavy" denotes the fact that the aircraft is heavy loaded and its a warning to planes around it to avoid the turbulance that the aircraft generates.

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RE: Pan, Pan, Pan Vs. Mayday

Sat Oct 23, 1999 7:42 am

Just a quick response here,

A 'PAN' call is a situation of URGENCY whereby a condition concerning the safety of an aircraft or of some person on board (or within sight) exists. However, the situation does not require immediate assistance

A 'MAYDAY' call is a situation of DISTRESS whereby the condition of the aicraft is being threatened by serious and/or imminent damger which requires immediate assistance.

The 'Heavy' part of a callsign (which comes at the end, e.g. United 256 Heavy) signifies that the aircraft comes under the wake turbulence category of 'heavy' rather than 'medium' or 'light'. This allows the controller to quickly know the limitations as to how much separation is needed between aircraft. 'Heavy' aircraft are those like the A300/A310, 747s, Most 767s, etc... The number of engines is not taken into account, just the MTOW.

Finally, as far as I am aware, the 'Heavy' callsign extension is only used in the USA. If anyone knows of anywhere else it is used I'd be interested to know, but for our airline's operations we use it only in US Airspace.

A330 F/o

RE: Pan, Pan, Pan

Sat Oct 23, 1999 8:01 am

Speaking to some buddies of mine about this crash we think that the pilots knew where the fire where coming from and it was not a big deal that is why they said PAN PAN PAN.

RE: Pan, Pan, Pan Vs. Mayday

Sat Oct 23, 1999 12:13 pm

As we have discussed time and again, the "heavy" designator means that the aircraft is certificated with a maximum gross weight of 255,000 pounds or more, regardless of its weight on any given flight or at any given time during a flight.

RE: Heavy

Sat Oct 23, 1999 1:06 pm

The callsign "Heavy" is also used in Canada, and I think it means the aircraft weighs between 250,000 and 300,000 pounds or more. (I was looking this up in a few books, and each seems to give a different weight, but most are around that).
Posts: 168
Joined: Sat Oct 16, 1999 5:18 pm

RE: Pan, Pan, Pan Vs. Mayday

Sun Oct 24, 1999 2:51 am

Hello everyone:

Reading the CVR transcript, it seems like the pilot(s) had a fair amount of control of the aircraft...what happened which incapacitated them to make a harsh but survivable landing?

Also, why did they make a "pan" call when they knew there was smoke in the cabin? Isn't smoke in a cabin classified as threat of imminent danger? Why didn't they make a "mayday" call right away?

Last question is: Does "pan, pan, pan" stand for "panic, panic, panic"?

Thank You.

RE: Pan, Pan, Pan Vs. Mayday

Sun Oct 24, 1999 2:59 am

They did not delcare a mayday which is surprising that is why I think they knew where the smoke was coming from. That is also why they where taking there time getting of fuel rather then landing over weight.

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