We have all watched movies in which a pilot is going down and through the radio he makes the call “mayday, mayday, I’ve been hit! I’m going down!” At this point the plane spirals down to crash land. Mayday is commonly used as a distress call and it is understood by most as such, but have you every stopped to wonder why mayday is used as a distress call? If you have, then this is the article for you!
Mayday as a Distress Call
Mayday is a standard distress call that is used internationally across voice procedure radio transmissions. It is used primarily by aviation and marine to signal a life-threatening emergency situation which requires immediate assistance. In some countries it also used by emergency workers such as the police department, fire fighters and ambulance officers. Mayday is said three times in a row to avoid any confusion over the radio. This repetition also helps distinguish between an actual mayday call or the mayday call being passed on through a secondary vessel or airplane.
The word mayday originated in 1923, when a senior radio officer, Frederick Stanley Mockford, was asked to come up with a word that would be easily understood by all pilots and ground staff in the case of a life threatening emergency situation. As much of the aviation traffic was between Croydon and Le Bourget Airport in Paris he came up with the word “mayday” which originated from the French word m’aider meaning “come help me.”
Transmitting a false “mayday” call is a criminal act and the perpetrator may be required to pay a hefty fine, do time in jail or serve community service. This is because of the large amounts of resources that are committed to answering a mayday call. It is also a criminal offense because it may put the lives of others in danger, whether they are attempting the rescue or in need of assistance.