PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — It’s not the impact of a plane crash that kills most people, it’s the smoke and flames afterwards.
Would you know how to get out quickly?
We went to the experts at the Allegheny County Airport Authority Fire Rescue Department to learn what to do.
Fire fighters at the airport are prepared if something were to happen here. They train frequently and even teach fire crews from other airports using a simulator with smoke and propane-fueled flames.
“There’s a fine line between victims and survivors a lot of times,” said Chief Rick Wilson. He says being prepared and being alert can boost your chances of survival.
First, it’s important to remember how safe airplane travel is and how rare crashes are.
According to the NTSB, 1 in 1.2 million flights will have some kind of accident, and 76 percent of passengers will survive even the most serious crashes.
When an Air France plane crashed in Toronto, the plane caught fire after skidding off the runway, but more than 300 people on board evacuated and survived.
In 2008, a Continental flight crashed at the Denver airport. The right side of it burned, but no one was killed.
And two years ago, this Asiana Airlines plane crashed in San Francisco. Three people died, but more than 300 others survived.
Chief Wilson begins by showing us how to brace if your plane is going down, and he says: “We want to protect our hands. We want to get ourselves into a position where nothing can fall from overhead on our hands, and we’re as far forward as we can be.”
If your hands get hurt, it’ll make escaping all the more difficult. Think about unbuckling your seat belt or if you were instructed to open the emergency hatch without being able to use your hands.
It’s better to have your feet and legs covered, and that means no flip flops or high heels. Also no shorts.
“Wear socks, wear long pants. A dress, nylons? I mean it looks nice but it’s probably not the idea,” said Chief Wilson.
When you get on a plane he recommends counting the seats to an exit. “If I had to evacuate, and it was smoke-filled, I could count backwards to get myself out.”
To show KDKA’s David Highfield just how smoky it can get, they take him inside the <a href=”http://www.flypittsburgh.com/arff-training-facility”
It doesn’t take long before it’s very difficult to see. David and Chief Wilson travel to the nearest exit by counting seats and crouching down. When you’re exiting a plane, you don’t want to stand up too high because there’s more smoke, heat and possibly toxic gases up there.
“The seats are designed to be flame retardant,” said Lt. Thomas Cloonan. “However, within just a few seconds, the cabin of the aircraft could fill up with smoke.”
Chief Wilson says, “We’re not going to crawl, because we don’t want people to trip over us.”
Next up, Lt. Tom Bonura makes sure David is ready for them to turn on the flames in the simulator. Once he has a mask, gear and breathing apparatus, flames shoot up in between the seats. It may only take 90 seconds for a fire outside a plane to move inside.
“We can see how very quickly, the heat and toxic gas rise,” said Lt. Bonura.
Keep in mind, flames could keep you from getting out of the exit closest to you.
Also, stay alert during take-off and landing. Statistics show that’s when most crashes happen.
Chief Wilson says in an emergency, people sometimes forget that seat belts on a plane are different than what we’re used to in a car, where there’s a button to push. “People push, push, push, push until somebody actually lifts and lets them out of their seat,” said Wilson.
People should leave luggage, laptops and purses behind in an evacuation. People are what’s important, not things.
Chief Wilson says during drills, he’s been able to get a whole plane evacuated in less than two minutes.
And once you’re out of the plane, get as far away from his wreckage as possible.
Chief Wilson actually brings a bottle of water with him when he flies, not necessarily to drink, but to soak a piece of clothing if need be. He says breathing through this soaked fabric can help filter out smoke.
As safe as flying is, the chief says it still makes sense to be ready in case something happens. “It’s the people who have a little bit of the preparedness and situational awareness who end up being the survivors,” said Chief Wilson.