ESCAPING WITH YOUR LIFE . . .
This page is based on a BBC TV programme, an edition of Horizon in 2006 which I recorded and watched later. It was one of the best programmes I have seen ó and one of the worst: best, for the well-presented expert advice it offered, and worst for the way this advice was mixed with images that would have put most people off staying with the programme! So here is the advice on its own. If you digest it, it might just save your life...
Air travel is one of the safest forms of transport however you measure it. But when accidents happen, they are big news. However often (or rarely) you fly, you probably board the aircraft feeling quite fatalistic: if this plane has my name written on it, so to speak, then thereís nothing I can do.
But this is quite wrong. The fact is that nine out of ten aircraft accidents have some survivors, and the majority of these are people who have thought about how to maximize their safety and what to do in an emergency, and have then obeyed instructions. In the highly unlikely event of an accident, you too could be a survivor.
Taking your seat
No single area of a plane is known to be always the safest, but common sense says: sit close to an exit (or more than one if possible). The statistics are that on average you have a better than 50-50 chance of surviving an accident if you are within seven rows of a usable exit.
Count the number of seat-backs from your row to the exit(s), in case you have to feel your way out. Note any particular features or obstacles between you and the exit. Focus on just how you would reach it.
Read the safety card every time, not only to reinforce your memory of the usual instructions, but also for any items that are different for this aircraft.
Watch the safety demonstration closely, for the same reasons. Observe how the life-vest is put on, as this may prove harder than it looks.
The Brace Position (leaning fully forward, when told to) is crucial for surviving a crash-landing. But itís not exactly the same for every aircraft (or even for every seat), so study the safety card and think hard about how you would adopt it. Better still, try it!
Practise undoing the buckle of your seat belt ó in an emergency you are surprisingly likely to revert to habit and try to release it as if youíre in a car.
Tighten your belt fully for take-off and landing. In between keep it loosely fastened against sudden turbulence.
When taking off or landing at night, switch your reading-lamp off to let your eyes adapt to the dark, just in case of emergency (the cabin-lights are dimmed for this reason).
Agree among your family or group that if you became separated inside the aircraft while trying to escape, you would not try to locate each other (while still inside) ó this would have the effect of impeding everyoneís exit.
In order to be wide awake in an emergency, donít consume a lot of alcohol, and donít take a sleeping tablet to see you through a long flight.
If the worst happens...
Listen closely for instructions from the cabin crew, and obey them.
If told to put on the life-vest, donít even think of inflating it while youíre still inside the aircraft. This would impede other peopleís exit, and could make it impossible for you to get out at all (especially if water enters).
If thereís smoke in the aircraft, it will be highly toxic and disorientating. Crouch down and follow the moving lights along the gangway. The lights at the exits will be of a different colour.
Outside, the slide that gets you down to ground level is pressurized. So before you reach it, remove anything that might puncture it (shoes perhaps, or items in a back pocket).
For speed, rather than clambering on to the slide, if possible jump on to it landing in a sitting position. When you reach the bottom, move away quickly, before the next escaper arrives.
If you find yourself in water, cling together with others to conserve heat. If a rescue cable is lowered to you from a helicopter, donít touch it until it has touched the water ó itís likely to have a strong static electric charge on it!
To me, the above advice is all rather like First Aid, except that itís for saving your own skin in an emergency instead of other peopleís. Learning it certainly hasnít put me off flying. Quite the opposite: Iím reassured to know that air accidents arenít necessarily fatal.