Other Stuff to Know - 3
Surviving Plane Crashes: “90 Seconds”
Airline travel is by far the safest mode of travel measured in terms of distance traveled.
Over 95% of the passengers involved in plane accidents on U.S. airlines survive and, even in the case of the more serious ones, more than 50% of the passengers survive.*
Exiting the plane within the first 90 seconds following a serious crash dramatically increases your chances of survival.
Fortunately, few of us are ever going to experience a plane crash but serious accidents do happen. Many fliers wrongly believe that most plane crashes are fatal. Smart travelers know there is much you can do to improve your chances of survival in the event of a crash.
Always try to book an aisle seat in one of the emergency exit rows or within no more than five rows of one. Having an aisle seat will give you the ability to move faster if you have to exit the plane. On the other hand, sitting in an aisle seat is not necessarily safer than being in a middle or window seat.
Also, exercise caution in flying on airlines based in less developed countries. Safety standards vary considerably region by region in terms of the level of pilot and crew training, the type of routine aircraft maintenance performed, and the quality of airport operations. In some countries, there are minimal, if any, safety standards.
Wear clothes made from natural fibers, such as cotton, denim, leather and wool. Clothes made from synthetic materials, such as nylon and polyester, are much more flammable and are likely to melt on your skin at high temperatures, causing serious burn injuries.
Pants and long-sleeved shirts are preferable as the more of your body that is covered, the better. Also, wear low-heeled, closed-toe shoes. Avoid wearing sandals, panty hose and high-heeled shoes when you fly.
Refrain from having an excessive amount of alcoholic drinks prior to boarding and do not take any sleeping medications until about five minutes after takeoff. The most frequent accidents occur during takeoff so you need a have clear head during that time.
Always pay attention to the emergency safety briefing given by the cabin attendants prior to takeoff and read the safety instructions card in the seat pocket in front of you. Since there are many different types of aircraft and interior plane configurations, these can vary considerably.
Prior to takeoff, smart travelers briefly prepare a plan in their minds to follow in the event of an accident or crash. The most important thing to do in this regard is to look around the plane, count the number of rows between your row and the nearest two emergency exits in front and behind you, and determine how you can get to them quickly. In the event of a crash, the cabin interior can fill with smoke extremely quickly, making it difficult or impossible to see anything. This way, you will be able to make your way to an exit by using your hand to count the number of rows. You need to remember this information for two exit rows as the first one you come to may be blocked by fire or other passengers.
To help you remember the number of rows between where you are sitting and the nearest two emergency exit rows in front and behind you, write down this information on a card before takeoff and put it in your pocket. In an emergency situation, you may have trouble recalling this information.
When you are sitting anywhere in an emergency exit row, look at the emergency door and study the instructions on how to open it. If you have any questions about opening the door, discuss them with one of the cabin attendants. You are not permitted to sit in the emergency exit row if you are physically unable to open the door. When you have any doubts in this regard, prior to takeoff you should ask a flight attendant to transfer you to another seat.
Keep your seat belt snugly fastened all the time you are sitting down, even when the seat belt sign has been turned off. Planes can experience turbulence or a sudden large drop in elevation without any warning.
Two-thirds of plane accidents happen during takeoffs and landings. This means that, during the first three to four minutes of takeoff and the last eight to ten minutes of the flight, you have to stay particularly alert, keep your shoes on and not wear any earphones.
Whenever a plane loses oxygen pressure, an oxygen mask will fall down from a small overhead compartment above each passenger. When this happens, it is important that you put the mask over your own mouth and nose first before trying to help anyone else with their oxygen masks, including small children. Usually, you have to tug slightly on the air cord to start the flow of oxygen.
Place the elastic band behind your head to keep your mask firmly in place. Put masks on your seatmates even if they appear to be unconscious. Leave your mask on until the flight crew announces that it is safe to remove it. Information on how to use the oxygen mask is contained in the safety instructions card in the seat pocket in front of you.
Sometimes, there will be an in-flight announcement regarding an impending crash. In this event, follow the instructions given by the cabin crew, plus make these preparations unless you are instructed otherwise:
- If you are traveling with any family members, quietly tell them, “Whatever
happens, we’re going to survive this. As soon as the plane stops, we have to move as fast as we can to get out one of the emergency exits.” With little children, parents should divide up the responsibility for helping them exit as it may not be possible for all the family members to stay together.
- Return your seat to its full upright position, put your shoes on and remove from your pockets any sharp objects, such as pens, combs and eyeglasses.
- If you are going to be landing on water, put your life vest on but do not, repeat do not inflate it until you are out of the plane and have gone down the emergency slide. An inflated life vest will make it extremely difficult for you to move around inside the plane and go down the slide.
- Pull your seat belt snugly around the upper ridge of your pelvis below your waist so there is no slack in the seat belt. This will help to avoid any internal stomach injuries.
- Again, count the number of rows between your row and the two nearest emergency exit rows in front and behind you. Some of the exits may end up not being usable.
- Jam your handbags or a blanket under the seat in front of you to prevent your legs from snapping when they fly forward under the impact of a crash.
- Wet a handkerchief or cloth to put over your mouth and nose in the event the cabin fills with smoke when you evacuate. This will inhibit but not entirely prevent noxious gases from entering your lungs.
- Assume a brace position to get your body down as low as possible to stop yourself from flying forward into the seat or bulkhead in front of you and getting head or neck injuries. If you can easily reach the seat in front of you or are close to a bulkhead, lean forward, place the palm of one hand firmly on the upper part of the seat or bulkhead, cross your other hand palm down over your first hand, and rest your forehead against the back of your hands. Do not lace the fingers of your hands. If you have a pillow or something soft handy, put it between your head and crossed hands. When the seat or bulkhead in front of you is not close enough to brace in this manner, bend over and wrap your arms tightly around your legs or under your thighs. In either brace position, keep your feet flat on the floor slightly in front of your knees.
- Do not brace your head against any video screen that may be located on the seatback in front of you. If one is there, try to brace your head below the video screen.
- Remain in your brace position until the plane comes to a complete stop. Sometimes, there can be more than one impact.
- Remind yourself that, as soon as the plane stops moving, you need to undo your seatbelt and focus all your attention on exiting the plane as fast as you can.
Your own behavior and decisiveness are the critical factor in surviving any plane crash. You have to size up the situation quickly and take the necessary action to exit the plane FAST without waiting passively to be told what to do. Sometimes the cabin crew will be able to give instructions and sometimes not.
Following any type of serious crash, passengers must evacuate the plane within about 90 seconds. After 100 to 120 seconds, there is a high risk of the cabin becoming engulfed in flames and toxic smoke. That is why you have to concentrate solely on exiting the plane as fast as you can move.
Here’s what you need to do as soon as the forward motion of the plane stops:
- Release your seat belt by pulling the latch. Look out the closest window to determine if there is any fire on that side of the aircraft.
- Start moving quickly to the nearest emergency exit. If you are traveling with a family member, have her or him follow right behind you, staying in constant contact by holding on to your hand or belt.
- Give preference to door exits as opposed to those located over the wings even if the door exit is several aisles further away. Door exits are larger which enables more passengers to exit quickly.
- Never attempt to take any of your handbags, luggage or other belongings with you. They will just slow you down and you need your hands free to navigate over obstacles. If you can, however, bring a wet cloth with you.
- When the main aisle is blocked, scramble over the back of seats if possible but do not crawl on your hands and knees along the floor as you’ll probably get trampled by other passengers. Also, do not push passengers ahead of you but urge them to keep moving as quickly as possible towards the nearest emergency exit.
- If the cabin starts to fill with smoke, keep your head low and hold a cloth or handkerchief (preferably a moist one) over your mouth and nose as the smoke will likely cause you to pass out if you breathe much of it.
- When you are not sure where the exits are located, follow the row of white light strips running along the floor of both sides of the main aisle. The color of these lights should turn to red or another color at the location of exit rows and the galley which also has exits. On newer planes, these emergency lights are located on the lower exterior side of both aisle seats as opposed to being on the floor.
- As soon as you come to an exit, look out through a window to check that there is not any fire or other hazard on the other side of the exit. If an exit is blocked or not safe, go to the one on the opposite side or proceed quickly to the next closest exit.
- When you come to an exit with an evacuation slide, do not wait for the people ahead of you to move away from the bottom of the slide. Immediately jump feet first into the center of the slide with your arms folded across your chest and your legs together as you go down it. At the bottom, quickly move away from the slide to avoid impeding other passengers going down it. Never throw any handbags or luggage down the slide. In the event the slide fails to inflate properly and no other exit is available, climb down the slide hand over hand. Remove any high-heeled shoes before jumping into the slide.
- If the exit opens on to a wing, climb outside, look for a marked walkway highlighted in grey non-slip paint, and follow that to the rear edge of the wing. If the wing flaps are extended, slide down them on your back, feet first with your hands at your side. Otherwise, jump from the wing down to the ground.
- Once you are on the ground outside of the plane, keep moving until you are at least 500 feet or 150 meters upwind from the plane. When you crash on water, swim away from the wreckage. In the event the plane has remained intact, however, you may be instructed to use the wings as a floatation device, especially if the water is cold. Sometimes, life rafts will be deployed from the plane. On newer planes, the evacuation slides also serve as life rafts.
- When you are free of the plane and safe, check on the first aid needs of yourself and others nearby. Absolutely do not re-enter the plane to obtain any articles there.
NEVER EVER LET YOURSELF GIVE UP! Keep going with everything you’ve got until you have exited the plane and are some distance away from it.
The above article contains my subjective recommendations based on a number of sources, including industry representatives and those articles cited below. Obviously, there is no guarantee regarding my advice as every accident is unique. In the event of a plane crash, if the cabin crew is able to give you emergency instructions, you should follow them. Otherwise, you need to use your own best judgment in determining how to respond given the circumstances you encounter.
* The National Transportation Safety Board.
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