Training is important - in the meantime, here are a few points to consider ...
For example, when getting out of a car, most people release their seat belt first before opening the door. We do this without even thinking, it’s automatic. If we are strapped into an aircraft that is sinking, a common reaction is to first release our seat belt, then try to get out. We have reverted to a learned behaviour that we have developed each time we get out of our car. This simple procedure may prove disastrous in an underwater egress situation.
In many accidents, people have hastily and prematurely removed their seat belts and as a result, have been moved around the inside of the aircraft due to the in-rushing water. With the lack of gravitational reference, disorientation can rapidly overwhelm a person. The end result is panic and the inability to carry out a simple procedure to find their way out of the aircraft.
Before releasing our seat belt, we need to stay strapped in our seat until the in-rush of water has stopped, our exit is identified and we have grabbed a reference point. As long as we are strapped in our seated position, we have a reference point relative to our exit which will combat disorientation. Also, if we need to push or pull open our exit, it will be a lot easier if we are still strapped in our seat.
Be familiar with your exits and door handles and know how to use them with your eyes closed. This piece of advice may seem a no-brainer, but something very simple can cause us problems. Again, think about our car example. Opening the door from the inside is not considered a difficult manoeuvre. Now think back to a time when you’ve been in someone else’s car or a rental car and you have wanted to get out but either couldn’t locate or operate the door handle immediately.
All that is needed is a slight change to something you’re not familiar with and now if you’re submerged upside down in the dark, freezing water, this simple task suddenly becomes monumental. If your life depended on it, could you do it? It’s easy to see how quickly simple procedures we automatically do every day can negatively compound in an underwater egress emergency if we haven’t trained and developed new behaviour traits to overcome these barriers.
For many, the most difficult part of surviving a ditching accident is an underwater egress. When reviewing accident reports, they indicate many people survive the initial impact however, needlessly drown because they were not able to extricate themselves from the aircraft.
A Canadian Transportation Safety Board study of survivability in seaplane accidents suggested that fatalities in seaplane accidents terminating in the water are frequently the result of post-impact drowning. Most drownings occur inside the cabin of the aircraft and those who survived often found difficulty in exiting the aircraft. In fact, over two-thirds of the deaths occurred when occupants who were not incapacitated during the impact drowned.
Panic, disorientation, unfamiliarity with escape hatches and lack of proper training are some of the major factors that contribute to people drowning. Why people encounter such difficulties when trying to get out of an aircraft that has submerged can, in some cases, be traced back to learned behaviour traits that are inappropriate for this type of situation.
In an emergency situation we tend to react, and don’t think. The way we have done things in the past become habit and often that’s the way we’re going to react.
To help prevent panic and disorientation, we teach the following 5 simple steps to follow in the event you are faced with an underwater egress situation . . .
Once you’re clear of the aircraft, the next thing you want to do is find a way to the surface. This can be difficult particularly if you lack positive buoyancy that would normally cause you to float to the surface of the water.
How do you know which way is up? If you are able to release air bubbles, even if it’s dark, you may be able to sense which way the bubbles are going. If you feel increased pressure on your ears, this may indicate that you’re swimming in the wrong direction. Certainly if you’re wearing a life preserver, inflate it. As you’ll be rising rapidly in the water, hold one hand above your head as you surface to make sure you don’t come in contact with any wreckage and/or debris.
Remember that training and preparation is the key to survival. By practicing the skills for ditching and underwater egress, it can become second nature, ingrained in your sub-conscious and may prevent you from becoming another one of the many people who die each year in this unforgiving situation. Knowledge and preparation is your best safety net.
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