Survive An Airplane Disaster
Announcement from the cabin attendant, “In the unlikely event . . .”
Last Friday I flew from L.A. to San Francisco. It was an evening flight so before we even started taxiing people had removed their coats and shoes, turned off their overhead lights, and curled up to get in a quick hour’s nap after a long week’s work.
Alarm bells started going off in my head!
Why? Because I had just finished reading a series of articles about airline safety and here are some of the details that stuck with me.
Three Airplane Safety Facts
Fact 1: Most airplane disasters happen between 3 minutes after taking off and 8 minutes before landing.
With that in mind, I was horrified to see that at take-off most of my co-passengers were NOT thinking about emergencies, had NOT taken a look at the emergency brochure, had NOT checked their flotation device, had NOT noted the number of rows to the nearest exit.
Worst of all, many were barefoot.
If we had to evacuate, these people would be groggy, confused, and naturally hesitant to scramble out in the dark onto a strange, maybe hot or broken surface – or into the ocean!
We were set to fail the 90 second evacuation test.
Airplanes are designed to get everyone out within 90 seconds. To accomplish that, over the years airplane designers have widened the galley ways (to 30 inches), widened evacuation slides to handle 70 people a minute, etc.
The 90 seconds isn’t an arbitrary number.
It’s about how long you can keep moving to save yourself if you can’t take a good clean breath of air.
And that’s because, in the case of a crash, more people perish from smoke inhalation than from injury.
Well, our flight didn’t have a problem (after all, I’m writing this) and when we landed, I witnessed an orderly exit. Still, it took a long, long time for everyone to dig out their hand luggage from under the seats and from the overhead racks. And this reminded me of the second thing I learned.
In an evacuation, people naturally want to bring the stuff they boarded with. The problem?
Fact 2: Evacuation slides on modern passenger aircraft are designed to rapidly remove human bodies from a plane that may be as tall as a two story building.
Key word is “rapidly.” A rapid evacuation works only if you JUMP onto the slide. It won’t work if you attempt to sit down to start your slide.
Jumping and falling that fast means you cannot control suitcases, computer bags, or rolling luggage carts. For sure, slowing your fall means you will be plowed into by the 350 lb. guy coming behind you with HIS rolling cart.
Even in evacuation drills, trained volunteers with nothing in their hands get injured sliding that fast and that far.
Luggage on the slide makes injury inevitable.
Fact 3: Once you’re on the ground, the next sensible thing to do is get away from the airplane. Fast!
We have all seen movies where the heroes run away from a burning car, house, or boat and it blows up behind them. (Great special effects.)
This image could just as well be an airplane loaded with aviation fuel. Do our heroes stop to take a video of the flames behind them . . .?
While we’re on the subject, here are just . . .
A Few More Airline Safety Tips
Negotiating Emergency Doors and Exit Rows
Apparently getting an emergency door open isn’t always as simple as it looks in that brochure. (“Pull down on handle, lift up door.”) In fact, some airline industry professionals suggest that you anticipate that half the emergency doors won’t be able to be opened at all – due to location of a fire, a damaged frame, whatever. That’s why you need to
- Identify the two closest emergency exits as soon as you are seated.
- Count the number of rows to the emergency exits so you can get there in the dark.
- If you can choose your seat, get one within 5 rows of an exit.
(During my research I came across stories of people attempting to open the emergency doors during flight. Mostly, it’s because they (1) were drunk or (2) had never been on an airplane before. Unbelievable.)
In a crash, your goal is to get up and get out right now! Do not sit there checking to see if you are OK or waiting for your breathing to return to normal all while wondering what is going to happen next.
Remember that 90 second rule and get yourself and family members moving to the nearest exit!
Leave your luggage behind.
You are going to have to launch yourself off the side of the plane. Extra weight and/or encumbrances will slow your passage to the door and threaten your ability to slide safely and to negotiate your landing.
Of course, crew members will guide the evacuation. The more assertive they are, the better it will go, so don’t get huffy at being yelled at. Get off the plane!
“In the unlikely event . . .”
. . .is the subtitle for this Advisory, because air travel is still statistically safer than other modes of travel.
Even with all the bad news of recent months, a CNN update published in May 2016 for the first half of the year stated: “We are ahead of the 10-year average with eight accidents and 167 fatalities compared to the average of 10 accidents and 205 fatalities.” (Source was aviation expert Geoffrey Thomas, editor of Airlineratings.com.)
When there is a crash, though, death statistics can be dramatic. Being aware and taking immediate action may keep you from becoming one of them.
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team
P.S. The Number 1 airline fact above – the 3 minute 8 minute rule – came from a book that we have read with great interest. It’s called Spy Secrets That Can Save Your Life: A Former CIA Officer Reveals Safety and Survival Techniques to Keep You and Your Family Protected. The travel safety tips are just a small part of what is fascinating reading about protecting your home and yourself from people out to get you.
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