On 11 April 1952, just after the plane took off, one of the engines of the Pan Am 562A flight failed, forcing the pilot to ditch in rough seas 11.3 northwest of San Juan Airport. Although the airman’s skills saved everyone on the plane, how each one of them handled the situation further made the difference between life and death – while crew members and 17 passengers were saved by the Coast Guards, the accident claimed the lives of other 52 people aboard the plane.
Due to named incident, pre-flight safety demonstrations had been implemented; but are they enough for survival? Even if planes are fully equipped for a water landing, the majority of them are not designed for such maneuvers. The only one who can save your life is your own self, but are you prepared enough to face it?
It is estimated that 88% of emergency water landings are 100% successful, but what happens after hitting the water is all on you. Most deaths occur after having ditched the aircraft, due to hypothermia and exhaustion, which will lead to drowning.
Read this article and find out what made the difference for the 22 survivors in Pan Am 562A Flight and what will be definitory for you in a similar case!
First of all, the key factor for any extreme circumstance is your attitude! The 52 people who died on the flight refused to leave the wreck because they were panicked. They had no time to think it through, as the plane sunk in no longer than 3 minutes. Because critical situations give you a limited response time, staying lucid is vital, because it allows you to control what happens.
Secondly, knowing the required steps will definitely help – follow the instructions given
before the plane takes off. Even if you’ve heard them all before, paying attention one more time could be vital. (Hint: count the rows between your seat and the closest exit. In an emergency situation, if the exit door is not visible, knowing how many seats there are left until you reach it will help you orient better, in a smaller amount of time)
If the cabin gets filled with smoke, protect yourself using the mask that the plane is equipped with or, if it is unavailable, use a piece of cloth. It is not as efficient, but it’s better than nothing at all.
Speaking of cloth, another important aspect that will determine your endurance is the material of the clothes you are wearing. Cotton is contraindicated because it is highly absorbent and will fan the flames for an inevitable hypothermia, while wool appears to be the best choice (it holds heat in extremely well and is a natural “water repellent”.
Another detail to envision is using the life vest. It is recommended you put it on while still inside the plane, but to inflate it as soon as you get out. If you do it before leaving the plane, when it will fill with water, you will have a hard time swimming through the exit door – and will most likely remain trapped in the wreck. Hold your breath, swim out of the plane, then fill the vest with air.
The last (but not least) consideration when it comes to water landings is keeping yourself safe until Coast Guards arrive. Fight your first instinct to swim to the shore, unless you are an experienced swimmer and are capable of accurately identifying the distance needed. Find a piece of the aircraft that floats and use it as a plank to stay at the surface. Control your breath as much as you can and be aware that hypothermia will set in (avoid the setting in as long as you can, by controlling your body and commanding it not to subdue to the extreme conditions you’ve exposed it to).
These are the hints that will help you survive in an emergency water landing. Share any other useful advice you know will make a difference in the comment section below!