We have heard a number of times MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY in Movies and Videos when someone has to declare some emergency over the radio communication.

Have you ever wondered what this MAYDAY is all about? How this word came into existence or who selected this word to be called at times of emergency? Well, the answer is, most of us know when to use it but not why.

Let’s start with a little history. In the early 1920s, radio communication became more popular among the aviators. Prior to that, the common method for radio communication was morse code. You might have heard about SOS. In morse code, if there is an emergency or distress, the SOS morse code was transmitted over the radio. So that the person at the other end could understand the distress.

As the aviation sector was expanding day by day then and Morse code was getting outdated, Air Traffic Controller (ATC) had to come up with a universal word that could be used at times of distress/Emergency.

Simply using the word ‘Help’ won’t work as it is a very common word. Anyone can use it for even petty things. So, there was a need for an emergency distress callout that stands out well for any emergency or distress situation which is easily understandable by the ground staff and the ATC.

The responsibility was given to the senior radio officer Frederick Stanley Mockford at Croydon airport, London in 1920 to think and come up with a word that would indicate distress/ emergency and easy to understand by all related personnel. That time, he was mostly handling the flights from London to Paris. He Proposed the word ‘MAYDAY’ which means ‘Help me’ in french. The word was adopted by the ‘International Radiotelegraph Convention of Washington’ in 1927, as the official voice call for emergency/destress over the Radiotelephone in place of Radiotelegraph call SOS.

By now, you might have got an idea about May Day while using radio to describe an emergency. But, what if a person over the radio has run into trouble which is not life-threatening. But requires immediate attention. For this kind of situation, We have another word which is ‘PAN PAN’ that describes an emergency of low severity which is not life-threatening.

PAN is derived from the French word ‘Panne’ which means ‘Breakdown’. A radio user mostly Pilots, uses these words in different situations depending upon the severity of the situation.

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