Although you need a considerable amount of luck, it is possible to live through an air accident. The people who survived the January 2009 U.S. Airways crash into the Hudson River in New York City were extremely fortunate. Their flight was piloted by Sully Sullenberger, a very brave and experienced captain. The passengers’ survival chances were enhanced by the fact that the Air Force veteran is also one of the industry’s most admired air safety consultants.
However, even when the pilot manages to bring a troubled airplane in on an emergency water or land crash situation, it requires more than just luck for everyone to get out alive. If the 165 passengers and crew hadn’t followed the correct survival and evacuation procedures on U.S. Airways Flight 1549, the story could have been much more tragic.
The first rule for passengers in such an emergency situation is to follow the pilot’s instructions. Captain Sullenberger kept talking calmly throughout the process of finding a safe area and setting the aircraft down in the water. Before the aircraft hit, he instructed all aboard to tighten their seatbelts and brace themselves for the shock.
After the initial impact, everything went as instructed. The passengers were further assured when the captain was totally in control when they saw him walked through the cabin several times, helping people out onto the wing outside. Because of his steady, professional manner, there was no panic or hysteria. Like a brave captain of long and honorable tradition, Sullenberger would not leave the aircraft until he was certain everyone else had been evacuated.
Preparing for the possibility of a crash starts as soon as passengers are aboard flights. After all are seated, attendants give detailed instructions on evacuation doors, oxygen masks, belt requirements, and use of seats as flotation devices in case of water landings. It is also the responsibility of individual passengers to read the safety cards provided, heed the instructions and know exactly what to do in case of emergency.
Experts further suggest passengers should come aboard dressed in non-restrictive clothing, as well as wear sensible shoes. Many people remove their shoes during a long flight, and should keep them nearby in case of an emergency. If passengers must slide down the chute to get away quickly, they should not be constricted by bulky clothing. If flying in winter weather, as were the passengers on Flight 1549 who faced the frigid Hudson River, be prepared for going into the water while holding your floatable seat cushion.
Bracing for impact before the crash landing starts by folding your arms on the seatback in front of you, lean your face on your arms and tuck your crossed legs and feet as tightly under your seat as you can. If there’s a bulkhead (wall) in front of you, tuck your head down and grasp your knees
The most favorable situation in a crash landing is to have time for the crew to give instructions and guidance on quick evacuations. That helped make the rescues in Flight 1549 go so well. However, passengers should never stay in their seats waiting for instructions that may never come. As soon as possible after impact, all must unfasten their seat belts and head quickly for the nearest exit door.
Speed is vitally import in evacuating a crashed airplane because of fire and explosion dangers. Passengers shouldn’t try for a last-minute grab of carry-ons or anything else that could slow down their escape. Additionally, they should have both arms free for making their way through the cabin and out the evacuation door. The exception is in a water landing, when carrying the floatable seat cushion out is an absolute necessity, because the amount of time a downed aircraft can stay afloat may be critical.
While luck is always a factor in surviving an airplane crash, thorough knowledge of evacuation procedures and just plain common sense can often be the difference between safety and calamity.