Pack your own life raft
(Page 2 of 2)
At Pensacola, only two of the 60 people aboard, and this includes the six crew members, managed to get themselves harnessed properly into their life vests.Skip to next paragraph
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Life vests of the type now carried by most planes originally were designed to be put on before flight and worn during the entire overwater trip. they weren't made to be put on in a possibly dark cabin during the shock of a crash.
Even worse than the vests are the flotation cushions, which are the only water safety equipment carried by most commuters and by some of the larger planes. The US Coast Guard won't permit the cushions to be used as life preservers on boats, but the FAA has few qualms about allowing the airlines to use them as their sole water safety equipment.
Although life vests, if properly fitted and put on, are far better than cushions, they also shouldn't be the only safety equipment carried on planes during over-water flights.
In warm waters, such as those in the Gulf of Mexico, survivors of a crash forced to rely solely on vests could be threatened by sharks. Colder waters present other hazards for the person spending any length of time in a life vest.
The average Coast Guard search and rescue time is two hours, and seven or more hours are not unusual. With rafts, crash survivors would have an excellent chance of remaining alive until the Coast Guard arrives.
With a curious blend of fatalism and myopic optimism, FAA officials defend the present rules and discuss the proposed changes.
* The FAA makes much of a distinction between a planned "ditching" at sea and an unplanned "water impact." Agency officials seem to assume that a water impact won't be survivable, with or without extra equipment. But at most, where passengers are concerned, the difference between the one type of crash and the other is a few minutes of preparation time.
* FAA officials observe that there never has been a planned ditching a regularly scheduled domestic aircraft, and they conclude from this that such an accident isn't likely to happen. They ignore the fact that in recent years there have been nine unintentional water impacts involving large jets in US offshore waters and many times that number worldwide. Many of these accidents were survivable, at least in part because the planes had rafts on board.
* The FAA cites increased engine reliability and gliding time as justification for its present over-water regulations and its new proposals. However, most airplane accidents aren't caused by engine failure. Accidents result from a myriad of unforeseeables, such as human error, bad weather, fuel pollution, or bird ingestion. Many of the airline companies are lobbying hard to get the rafts off their so- called "limited" over-water flights. The airlines argue that eliminating the rafts will save badly needed energy.
But the real reason the airlines are pressing for raft removal is one of economics, not energy. The heavy, bulky rafts cut down on passenger load.
Modern technology is available for the design of lightweight rafts, but the airlines haven't taken advantage of scientific know- how in that area, and aren't likely to do so unless the FAA insists.
Until the FAA stops going along with the airlines' "cost-benefit" approach to flight safety over water, millions of unsuspecting passengers will continue to be taken for a needlessly hazardous ride.