Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Some good, life-saving advice

From Salon columnist and pilot Patrick Smith (at his indignant best here about the errors in the coverage of the recent China Airlines 737 incident where a fuel tank was punctured, and burst into flames. I am completely sympathetic to his indignation.) -- read this part. It's true. [And incidentally, why, no matter how many times I may have flown on a particular type of aircraft, I always spend a few minutes going over that little card in the seat-back pocket-in-front-of-me and locate all the exits. As Hainan Airlines titles that card, "Just in case."]
Conventional wisdom holds that airplane crashes are nonsurvivable. I can't tell you how many times I've heard cynical fliers remark on the futility of fastening their seat belts. "After all," the logic goes, "if there's an accident, we're all going to die anyway, right?"

In truth, most accidents have survivors, and relatively few are all-out catastrophes. Thus, a little pre-planning could save your life.

Part of that pre-planning is knowing exactly where the doors are -- all of them, as smoke, fire or debris could render one or more exits unusable. You must also understand that should an evacuation be necessary, you will not be taking your carry-on luggage with you. Doing so could put yourself and others in considerable danger. Video and photos from Okinawa show several fleeing passengers laden with carry-ons. One of the pictures I saw shows a woman, already burdened with two shoulder bags, reaching for a third piece of luggage that she had apparently dropped on the tarmac.

What with the nature of carry-ons these days -- expensive computers, phones and PDAs packed with valuable data -- the temptation to reach for your stuff would be strong. What's the difference, you think, in taking an extra second or two to pull out your laptop? Well, hundreds of people each taking an extra second adds up to a lot of seconds, and if there's a fire encroaching quickly toward thousands of gallons of highly volatile jet fuel, every one of those seconds counts. And although you may be one of the first ones out, you've slowed the channel of escape for those behind you.

This is the reason, by the way, for the litany of prohibitions during taxi, takeoff and landing: Tray tables need to be up, window shades open, laptops and iPods put away. It's not about electronic interference, it's about the need for a speedy egress and situational awareness should anything happen.


St. Elizabeth of Cayce said...

Fascinating stuff. Maybe I'll get myself one of those photojournalist's vests so I'll be wearing all my carry-on stuff when I need to exit a plane. Which, given the frequency with which I fly, will be in 2047 or so.

Seriously, though, good advice.

Pam said...

As I board the plane this FRI bound for Buffalo NY I will make sure to check out all the safety measures as I do each time I fly. I LOVE to fly but I am also very timid about what could happen. I fear pain and disability much more than death!!
Thanks for the reminder!