I have never heard a mayday call, but I have heard emergencies declared.
One was me, declaring an emergency to 121.5 for my partial engine failure. I spoke plain english on my declaration I.E. This is Sundowner 2943L declaring an emergency, anybody monitoring this frequency. No sooner then I let go of the transmit button, Guard came back and said Sundowner 1943L, what is the nature of your emergency. I explained my circumstances, told them I would squawk the emergency code and Guard then transferred me to New Orleans approach.
I squawked the emergency code on my transponder to wake up everybody I could so I would paint a spot on somebody’s scope should I not make it to the airport. Once I was identified by New Orleans ATC, I was given a standard squawk for the remainder of my flight. I made it just fine. Cause of emergency was a failed exhaust valve on one cylinder.
Another emergency I heard was a single engine plane declaring an emergency for smoke in the cockpit and asking for vectors to JAN. He didn’t make it to the airport, but ended up landing on a heavily traveled road. No injuries.
Another emergency was a VFR pilot stuck on top of a cloud layer requesting assistance.
Reading ASRS reports, it’s not unusual for an airliner to declare an emergency to avoid thunderstorms and deviate from ATC instructions until they get around the storms if ATC cannot accomodate their request.
All in all, quite rare to hear an emergency, but when they come up, ATC does a wonderful job in providing any assistance they can.
If you are already talking to ATC (I.E. VFR flight following or IFR handling), you do not change frequencies. Declare the mayday on the frequency you have been assigned, and your are now the highest priority on frequency.
121.5 is designed for pilots NOT talking to ATC and gives them a direct line to Guard as I experienced myself (see my prior post) or for locating ELT signals as that is also transmitted on 121.5
There was even an incident where a VFR pilot inadvertantly entered IMC and called FSS for his mayday call. FSS ended up making a land line call to ATC to help them get a hold of this guy.
That’s the same audio clip I linked to above. I totally get chills listening to the beginning. (in the last section at the end I can’t help but think of the movie “Fargo”, “oh yeah? is that right? gorsh!”
I was on my long solo x-country in NY when I heard an F16 declare an emergency. I was to green to have any idea what he was talking about.
I declared on departure from 28R at KCMH in an AEST. I did my flight control check and felt something pop. So I did it again without any problem. The AEST is all push tube controls, so if something had broke one of the flight controls wouldn’t have moved. On the takeoff roll the (either) fuel psi or fuel flow was inop. I thought to myself, “I could have sworn that was working before.” The aircraft was fresh out of MX. My next thought was (during the t/o roll still), “man they used some powerful cleaning products.” As soon as I rotated the cabin started to fill with fuel, my shoes were socked with in 10 seconds.
I made one radio call to this effect…“Starcheck ### is declaring an emergency, I have a fuel leak in the cockpit and will be executing a right 360 to land 28L” The next thing I heard was, “say again.” I really didn’t want to push the talk again with fuel vapors filling the cockpit and luckily someone holding short caught the whole thing and replied for me.
I was back on the ground and on the ramp before the CFR arrived. With in, I’d guess, 4 min I had about 1" of standing fuel in the cockpit.
Airnet had an airplane ready for me before I was even on the ramp, and I was in the air about 12min later. Would have been 10 but I needed new shoes and socks from my car. Oh ya, 3 minutes to throw up too.
Never did do any paper work.
turns out that during MX they replaced the fuel psi/flow guage. When I did the flight control check I pulled the line off the back and fuel under psi was shooting all over the back of the instrument panel.
If you are monitoring 121.5 near OHare, you probably will not hear any MayDay calls because everyone flying in OHare’s airspace is talking to ATC on a different frequency (actually, several different frequencies). If they have a problem or emergency, they would just communicate it to ATC on the freq they are already using.
I had a problem once flying VFR (but on a Class Bravo clearance) directly over the top of OHare. When I told the controller I was having an engine problem, he immediately asked me if I wanted to declare an emergency. I told him not yet and got it sorted out. I was impressed with how responsive the controller was to one VFR single engine pilot when you could tell from the frequency congestion that these guys were incredibly busy keeping the jets sorted out
Another place to listen is the airline dispatch frequencies. AAL’s Fort Worth desk is on 131.0250 (and others) SWA in Dallas is on 131.7000. The dispatch desks handle all diversions, are notified of medical emergencies, take care of crew logistics, and generally get a heads up on mechanical problems.
Try listening to Maintenance also. AAL at DFW is on 129.0000. SWA at DAL is on 130.7250.
Most of the communications you hear are not true emergencies, but in an hour you’re likely to hear several flights. Dispatch really hops when a storm front or a blizzard comes through. Flights have to be parked somewhere before the fuel runs out.