Two Letters Re: Escape From (Fill in Your City Here), 2009

Dear Jim:,
All this recent discussion by SurvivalBlog readers about hot-wiring airplanes, and cutting fences and locks is missing some basic, well, let’s just say “applied ethics”.

Recall the Golden Rule “Do unto others as they have done unto you”. Flip the situation around and look at it from the property owner’s view: How would you feel if you saw someone stealing your airplane? (Your life savings in an aircraft.)

How would you feel upon noticing someone cutting the fence or gate that keeps your cattle off the road?

Granted, in a life-threatening emergency you may morally take liberties with other folk’s property that are not normally available. If a rancher saw someone drive through their fence because they were being hotly pursued by criminals – they would probably be understanding of the circumstances.

If a rancher or farmer saw someone with bolt cutters working on their fence – someone who has obviously premeditated trespassing – at the very least they are going to be confronted. In a really bad situation, perhaps after dark, it could easily end up in a situation where they will be shot.

The wise and honorable person will pre-plan ethical actions. The obvious macro solution is getting out of Dodge early. If you are going to pre-plan using an airplane, then preplan by becoming a trusted rental customer, know how to contact the owner on short notice and rent for cash, with a security deposit in gold coin.

The suggestion to cut a link and add a lock to a gate rather than cutting the lock makes sense so you have not destroyed the property owner’s lock. But be extremely cautious about planning on trespassing on other folk’s property… I wouldn’t imagine country folk are going to take trespassing lightly in an emergency – I can’t see how it could be done safely unless you can hail the farmhouse for permission. Any ranchers out there with an idea how this scenario could be handled ethically and safely? Regards, – OSOM

JWR Replies: I concur, wholeheartedly. It is just one small step from applied ethics to applied ballistics. It is of the utmost importance to respect the property of others. While utilizing BLM or or other public land in an emergency is a given, simply cutting across private farm or ranch land in the midst of a disaster is likely to get interlopers well-ventilated rather quickly. Put yourself in the position of a rancher. If in the midst of a societal collapse you saw someone breaking open your locked gate, what would you do? For many, the answer will be “shoot first and ask questions later.”

As I have emphasized time and time again in my writings, the very best approach is to live at your retreat year-round. That is great for retirees and the self-employed. But for many folks that is impossible, because or work and family obligations. So the next best approach is to have a very well-stocked, very secure retreat, and maintaining your readiness to get there on very short notice. Nearly all of your key logistics should be pre-positioned at your retreat. Do not think in terms of finessing your gear into the cubic feet available in your vehicle. If you take the time to shoehorn things in, you are probably wasting precious time that should be spent on the road, getting out of town in advance of the Golden Horde. Just a one hour delay could mean the difference between smooth sail and ending up in a a monumental traffic jam that soon becomes a linear parking lot. You should simply keep one Bug Out Bag (typically a backpack) and a supplementary duffle bag ready at all times. Be ready to grab them and go. Pre-positioning your gear eliminates much of the worry and confusion of a Get Out of Dodge situation.

Needless to say, you’ll need a Plan B and a Plan C. You may end up on a bicycle, or on foot.

Think things through, plan ahead, and act morally. If and when things fall apart, you want to be part of the solution, rather than contributing to the problem.


In response to our reader’s suggestion of using a Cessna172 for escaping. That is probably one of the poorest choices I could imagine. It has many faults and I’ll list them FWIW.
First of all I have over 2,500+ hours flying Air Charter and Air Taxi under Part 135 FAA Regs. I took the same tests flying single and twin engine aircraft as any airline pilot did with the only exception was that I was not required to have a first class medical as they did. So I am twin engine, Commercial and Instrument rated.

Problems with a Cessna 172:

It does not have a big payload especially when fully-fueled and the tendency to overload it would be great and dangerous. Automotive fuel should not be used, i.e. I would not fly one filled with automotive fuel. Tests were done with using it years ago and many problems were found.

Aircraft weather [data] would most likely be unavailable.

VOR and other navigation aids would probably also be unavailable. Okay, If you had a GPS unit you might be able to navigate.

Our lifeblood, gasoline would most likely by unavailable, especially aviation gas since it can be used in automobiles and would be subject to being stolen if the electricity to pump it out was available. I used to run a tank of 100 low lead aviation gas through my motorcycle about once a month.

Runways could and most likely would be obstructed or otherwise cluttered from looting, fuel, oil theft, etc., etc..

Without weather information what would be your chances of finding a suitable landing strip or even an open highway strip if you found yourself approaching thunder storms, icing conditions fog, or a large [weather] front. If you could or did land, especially under power, would attract the looters for the fuel and whatever else you have in the plane.

ILS, VOR or even ADF stations could or would be off the air making a bad weather approach deadly.

You could, literally, be shot out of the air by angry looters thinking the plane may contain supplies they want or just by some idiot with sufficient ammo angry at their situation. I know of a glider pilot shot through the arm by a guy who lived by the airport.

The preceding is just a drop in the bucket. I could go on.

I did consider “borrowing” an aircraft to get home should the SHTF while I was far from home but it would be just to get home and all conditions would be carefully considered and near perfect. It would not be a bug-out option should I need to bug out.

IMHO an aircraft might be an option very early on in a SHTF situation but again conditions would have to be very favorable. – Larry in Pennsylvania