Wednesday, December 31, 2014

How we can improve evacuation and rescue during plane crash

It is sad to follow the news regarding retrieval of bodies, wreckage, and personal possession of ill fated Asia Asia flight QZ8501. The location of the crash site took more than 2 days to accomplish, mainly due to the lack of real-time tracking of airline flights and in my opinion, tracking of evacuees. Two days in the open sea is not conducive to survival chance!

In my opinion, the current evacuation and safety measures implemented on air travel is poor and insufficiently practical (in short, IMPRACTICAL). If you are a flyer, you would have been exposed to this safety card on-board the plane. For most people like me (e.g. cautious type who will read safety diligently), we are only theoretically wise in terms of aircraft evacuation and handling life-jacket. But truthfully, I am a fool in the practical aspect, especially when I have not seen the life-jackets and just took the words of flight attendants about them stored under the seats.

To open the emergency exit for evacuation, I only can hope that someone will be able to work with that come crucial moment because I don't know how to do that. Fortunately, I think it won't be difficult especially considering that first-timer Chinese passenger on-board Xiamen Air could open it for fresh air.

Now, if we are lucky and the plane landed on water, what is expected of the evacuation procedure? From the safety card, there are several things that can happen.
  1. Prior to impact, the plane could lose cabin pressure (air is too thin that oxygen will be depleted), and if that happens, oxygen mask will be dropped from the upper compartment. Use it on yourself before attempting to help others because losing consciousness while helping the next person will be useless.
  2. If there is time, wear the life-jacket. Hopefully they are not nicely wrapped in plastic wrapper or else you will have to tear them with your nail and teeth (while cursing the safety officer for the oversight)
  3. Brace yourself for impact by holding onto something (e.g. the seat in front) and lowering your head and body. This will ensure no flying debris hits you upon impact.
  4. While wearing the life-jacket, you should proceed to the nearest emergency exits calmly (but I don't think it will be calm). Wait for someone to work on the emergency exit (or be proactive) so that an inflatable slide-cum-raft will be dispensed. Slide down in an ordered fashion (while giving priority to the needy).
  5. This is the time to inflate your life-jacket now. 
  6. The slide will be your raft (I have no idea how it works, see how dumb I am with just theoretical knowledge), so hold on to it and try to climb up. 
  7. Wait for rescue.
 The above "expected evacuation procedure" is ideal in an ideal situation. Now, what the aviation and safety authorities need to ensure in reality is the following possibilities (in my opinion).

  1. What happens if the aircraft went tail spun (or spin) and landed upside down on water? Would the "expected" evacuation procedure be applicable then?
  2. Had the aviation industry (and safety authorities) estimated the time it takes for a floating plane in sea water to sink completely? Would the time be sufficient to evacuate everyone? Aren't there any mechanism/technology (that can be implemented) that could inflate parts of the plane to prolong buoyancy time of plane during evacuation?
  3. Considering that the time ( > 2 days) needed to search and rescue (or retrieve) survivors, hadn't the aviation safety authorities came up with a more realistic evacuation kit for air passengers. This is considering that a life-jacket (with light and whistle) is hardly practical to save life (except to serve as a floatation device and attracts sea predators at night). Furthermore, who would want to float under the intense sun, dehydrated, and lost while waiting for either the inevitable or miracle? Hadn't the Asian Tsunami thought us anything, especially what happened to the ones who got swept away in mid-sea waiting for rescue? Dehydration.

 My suggestions to the aviation and safety authorities:
  1. If the plane is lucky to crash on water intact, please have a mechanism to increase buoyancy of the aircraft so that there is sufficient time to evacuate all passengers.
  2. Life-jacket (with whistle and light) is alright, but to have a manual water filtration system (those used by the army but with special filter to cutoff salinity) attached to the life jacket will be a blessing especially when dehydration will more likely kill evacuees faster than anything.
  3. If you are going to provide the incidental (or accidental) inflatable slide-turn-raft, at least provide several floating (or attached) packages containing potable water bottles for evacuees. No food is okay but please let there be water (no pun intended).
  4. Please oh please, provide radio transmission devices (aka radio transmitter) for evacuees who are stranded in the open sea. This is the 21st century for goodness sake. Is it really too much the cost to bear for attaching a radio transmitter in life-jackets or rafts for easy search and rescue mission during aviation accidents? If we can tag migratory birds or animals with radio transmitters for easy tracking of these migratory animals in National Geography, surely we can't be too stingy to bear the cost to save lives no? Do note that radio transmitter works better in the open sea than jungle (containing trees blocking the signal). For further information, refer to distress radiobeacon (Wikipedia) and note that the signal can also be used to triangulate the location of the transmitter/evacuee (with detection radius of >10 km for some model.
  5. If it's not too much to ask, attach a water-proof, shock-proof, weather-proof satellite phone to assigned safety officer on-board (could be one of the flight attendants) so that he/she can call for help (or at least inform the authority that there are survivors and so please work your butt faster in the rescue operation rather than retrieval mission). Note that I'm sicked of following news reporting about effort to retrieve the "black box" (or orange box) for investigation. It seemed that "retrieval" is more practical than rescue in air disaster! In addition the satellite phone can be used for locating the caller.
  6. Provide real-time tracking of planes!

  • Implement a more practical evacuation protocol (and mechanism) for aviation accidents or crash.
  • Provide practical survival kit in addition to the life-jacket. A whistle and light at night can attracts sea predators (unless rescue boat can reach survivors/evacuees sooner). Without the crucial water supply, and no means to purify sea water, consuming the sea water will be toxic (Natl Ocean & Atmospheric Administration, NOAA), and survivors will perish before rescue arrives.
  • Provide radiobeacon to life-jackets.
  • Implement real-time tracking of flights.
My condolences to the victims family.

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