By, Jo Carol Hebert
Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!
No. It’s not somebody that is really happy about the month of May. The word, Mayday, in the language of communications is a worldwide distress code word for “help, lives are in danger!
This urgent message is transmitted long distances from air or sea by radio waves. Radio receivers recognize the Mayday cry for immediate assistance. They stay tuned to the radio frequency. They pay close attention to the information relayed about the Mayday situation. They prepare for rescue.
Radio Operators Making a ‘Mayday’ Call Have a Set of Procedures to Follow:
- Repeat the Mayday word for help.
- Identify the aircraft/vessel by name/number. (“This is the Titanic.”)
- State the specific nature of the emergency (“We have hit an iceberg; Engine room flooded”)
- Give geographic location (“We are 41-56 degrees North and 50-14 Degrees West”)
- Describe the type of assistance needed. (“Need immediate help;” “can’t last much longer”)
- State what emergency actions are being taken on board. (“women and children on last lifeboats”)
What Are Some Reasons a “Mayday” Call Would Be Sent Out?
- Fires, Explosions, Terrorism
- Malfunction or permanent damage to engine or equipment (landing gear won’t come down, loss of cabin pressure, fuel running out, losing power, navigating instrument failure/lost, etc.)
- Severe illness or injury of crew or passengers
History of Other Distress Signals in America
Clever people have always found ways to “talk” to each other near and far. Before the technology of communication by wire or electricity, people sent “maydays” long distance in unique ways.
Early tribes sent puffs of “smoke codes” to warn of approaching enemies.
Drum beats in codes of rhythm patterns travelled on the winds to give news or warnings.
Rockets and flares were set off into the air, signal flags were waved from ships and shore.
Coastal lighthouses flashed powerful beams of light to alert ships at sea of storms or other dangers.
People wrote letters pleading for help. People ran these paper requests or rode horses to take to the intended receivers.
Newspapers printed disasters after the fact and “word of mouth” related needs for assistance. But these old ways of communication were slow. Help often arrived too late to defer a disaster or save a life.
In 1860, Pony Express riders speeded things up by racing across the land to destinations with leather pouches of mail. This faster and interesting way of getting information to people was short-lived. A much faster transporter of news was invented – The Telegraph.
Sent through wired poles connected from East to West, this two-way communication between people put the ponies out to pasture. Telegraphers could tap out messages in codes of dots and dashes that corresponded to letters.
The most efficient distress code message was the ‘SOS’. These letters were tapped out quickly and easily (three dots/ . . . three dashes/ – – – and three dots/ . . .)
Television and the Internet today transmit news to people as it is happening. You probably have access to a cellular phone to call 9-1-1 in an emergency – 9-1-1- responders are trained to help you. You may be asked to give the same information as a Mayday call: help!, your name, the emergency, location, and your actions.
Distress calls to authorities must never be sent as a prank or joke.
Here is a fiction story that illustrates the consequences of a person who sent a fake ‘mayday’ message.
Once there was a little boy who watched his father’s sheep.
One day, the boy got bored with the job. He thought it would be funny to pretend that a wolf ate one of the sheep. So, he yelled loudly, “Wolf!, Wolf!, Wolf!
The townspeople came running with hoes and sticks. “There’s really no wolf!” the boy laughed. So, the people went away back to town.
“That was fun!” thought the boy. So, later, he tried it again.
“Wolf! Wolf! Wolf!”
The people came quickly with guns. “I just tricked you again,” the boy cried. This time, the people went away angry.
Then, a real wolf did come out of the forest. The wolf crept into the sheepfold and took a little lamb in his sharp teeth.
“Wolf! Wolf! Wolf!” the scared boy cried. But the wolf ate the little lamb.
“Help! Help! Help!” the scared boy screamed. But the wolf ate up all the sheep.
And nobody ever came to help.
What do you think of “Mayday?” Tell us in the comments section!