The recent TransAsia ATR 72-600 turboprop crash created some spectacular video, images of the horrible moments when a plane looses lift and all hope of surviving a bad situation. After the crash, one of the passengers, 72-year-old survivor, Huang Jin-sun, reported from his hospital bed he survived the crash by unfastening his seat belt before impact. He further reported saving four or five other passengers by unbuckling their seat belts after the crash, preventing their drowning.
Occasionally the inexplicable occurs, and we are left to scratch our collective heads and wonder why.
The elderly Chinese fellow certainly believed, for whatever misguided reason, surviving the inevitable air crash could best be accomplished by freeing himself from the confines of his seat belt. He even admitted advising a young lady in the seat beside him to do the same and cover her head with clothing. I cannot find information about this young lady. I suspect she may not have survived the crash for obvious reasons.
It might appear, since he survived the crash, unbuckling his seat belt was the right thing. It was not, and his having advised the young lady beside him to do the same may very well have cost her life.
According to Newton, a body in motion tends to stay in motion until stopped. The turboprop would have been flying at about one hundred to one hundred and fifty knots. When it impacted the ground, it stopped very quickly. Passengers wearing seat belts will stop with the plane. Passengers not wearing seat belts will fly through the cabin and become one with another part of the aircraft, such as one of the bulkheads.
Nonetheless, most people fear drowning in a submerged car or plane. But think about it. The likelihood of becoming knocked unconscious during a wreck increases without a secured seat belt. So drowning is more likely while unbuckled then when buckled.
I had the opportunity in the past to take some water survival training through a major oil exploration company. We jumped from a high place into a pool, simulated abandoning ship, fought controlled fires, and floated around the deep end of the pool in Gumby survival suits. We also practiced escaping a sinking helicopter in a simulator. This training was good and followed what I had previously learned in the military and from growing up as a pilot’s son.
The hardest thing to learn is patience. When the helicopter lands in the water, it’s going to roll over and fill with water. The passenger must stay in his seat with his seat belt secure. Otherwise, the rushing water will overwhelm him, either slamming him into a hard structure or exhausting him as he fights the flow.
When the water stops surging, the passenger will find himself upside down in his seat, holding his breath. This is the time to unbuckle the seat belt and maneuver to one of the doors to escape the doomed bird.
Panic kills while calm saves lives. Keep calm and let the chaos subside before unbuckling your seat belt and making you way to safety. This holds true both on dry ground and in any body of water.
In the air, always wear a seat belt. When the pilot turns off the seat belt light, don’t unbuckle your belt but loosen it. If the plane flies into strong turbulence, you will remain in your seat as the other passengers will do a Peter Pan and bang their heads on overhead obstacles.