Survival Note: Lessons Learned when Plane Burns on Runway in Chicago

First, let’s be thankful no one was seriously hurt and the pilots got the take off successfully aborted. But, like any disaster, we must examine it to see what can be done better.

Have you seen the images and videos? How some people grabbed their carry-ons during an emergency evacuation? How people immediately pulled out their cell phones once on the ground and either were calling or texting someone or taking pictures and videos?

Just some quick survival notes we all need to keep in mind on a plane:

  1. When the flight attendant says look for nearest exit, look for the nearest exit. This holds true everywhere. Humans are predictably irrational and one of our instincts is to try to get out the way we came in. This can be fatal. People have run by an exit trying to get to the way they came in and become trapped in the stampede of people reacting the same.
  2. There is a big difference in circumstances when evacuating a plane that is landing versus one taking off. Fuel load. That plane had enough fuel to get from Chicago to Miami plus the required reserve. In essence: a bomb. Fire is the #1 killer for those who survive a crash landing.
  3. When evacuating a plane, take nothing but yourself. Help others.
  4. Get far away, being aware if there are other active runways. Too many people stopped too soon.

The best pilot briefing I got from a helicopter pilot during an operation was simple– helicopters are different because of the danger of the blades– he said: “If you see me running away, you run away.”

Old paper grunge background

Old paper grunge background

One side note and something I wasn’t aware of until I was doing some research for Prepare Now. Survive Later. Sometimes flight attendants mention this but we often don’t pay attention: if anticipating a water landing, aka Sully in the Hudson, put on your life vest, but DO NOT inflate it until in the water. This video shows an emergency landing in the water of the beach of Somalia after a hijacking. Note that while the plane breaks apart, it’s close to the beach. Most who died, did so because their vests were inflated and they got trapped inside and drowned.

Every little rule for airline safety was made as a result of something going wrong. Let us value the sacrifice of those who contributed to the making of those rules!

 

3 Comments

  1. Martin Roy Hill

    October 29, 2016 at 1:01 pm

    Good advice, Bob.I would suggest one small change. Don’t just look for the nearest exit on a plane, familiarize yourself with all the exists around you and prioritize them – primary exit, secondary backup, tertiary backup. You don’t want to fixate on on just one exit because that one may not be viable in an emergency.

  2. Bob
    You mentioned “There is a big difference in circumstances when evacuating a plane that is landing versus one taking off. Fuel load. That plane had enough fuel to get from Chicago to Miami plus the required reserve. In essence: a bomb. Fire is the #1 killer for those who survive a crash landing.”

    Do jet’s use JP5? Stuff ignites instantly with the slightest spark.

    I am not sure if fire is the #1 killer but i know fumes are. When all that plastic burns it becomes toxic in that small tube we call a jet.

    And yes, I plan my escape route when I get on the plane. I usually fly first class since I know that door in my area will open first and be unrestricted. Plan ahead.
    Ray

  3. Thank you, Bob. Hundreds of years ago when I flew with United, no one paid attention to the required announcements. Still flying as a passenger, I see the same thing. What are people thinking? Do people actually inflate their life vests in the interior? How to they plan to exit? Do they really delay their exit while they find their makeup bags? Do they really stop under the wings to text their mommies? Whatever happened to the survival instinct?
    Grow up!

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