Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Surviving a Submerged Vehicle

Three young women died last night when they apparently drove their Jeep Cherokee into a pond on a North Dakota farm during a stargazing expedition. According to reports, two separate phone calls were received from the occupants of the Jeep after it began to submerge, as the girls were trying to call for help. Two friends received the calls from cell phones, but the calls quickly went dead.

The unfortunate thing is that these girls could probably have survived if they had known how to safely get out of a vehicle that has gone underwater. It takes some quick planning and a cool head to do the right things at the right time, but it is possible. The important thing is to try to remain calm. I know that sounds almost impossible, but it is absolutely essential. If you panic, you probably won't survive.

As soon as you realize that the vehicle is in deep water and is going to sink, get your seatbelt off and try to open the door and get out. For this to succeed, you must open the door before the water level gets higher than a few inches on the outside of the door. Otherwise, the pressure of the water against the door will not allow you to open it. If you try to shove the door open, but cannot, don't waste your energy on that avenue of escape.

The next best thing is to open the window before the water level reaches the glass, and climb out. If you cannot open the window, perhaps because the power window mechanism is no longer operating, break the window and crawl out.

The window glass will shatter into small fragments, so you don't need to worry about impaling yourself on a sharp blade of glass. You cannot break the glass by pounding on it with your fists. You can try kicking it, but that also might not work. The best way to shatter the window is to use a heavy piece of metal (hammer, hefty wrench, etc.) or a special spring-loaded glass-breaking punch. The punch takes almost no effort to break the window and you can find them available online for about $10.

If you are unable to escape before water reaches the level of the windows and begins to pour inside, you'll have to wait. Don't panic. You must allow the flow of water coming in through the windows to fill the interior enough to slow the flow and let you escape. The interior of the vehicle will need to be almost completely filled with water before you can get out. This is the most difficult time to remain calm, but it is vital that you do so. If other people are in the vehicle, do your best to calm everyone else and tell them what to do.

  • get seatbelts off
  • work to get windows or doors open
  • wait until the vehicle fills with water
  • talk about who will go first, second, third, etc.
  • follow the air pocket and breathe

Take deep breaths of air as the vehicle fills, pressing your face up against the headliner to get the last of the air before escaping. The vehicle will probably sink nose-down because of the weight of the engine, and that might produce an air pocket in the back where you can breathe while you work out your survival plan with others who are in the car.

By the time the vehicle is full of water, you might be able to shove the doors open because the pressure will be equal on both sides of the door. Depending on the physical size of the occupants, that might be the only way out. If you can get the doors open while you're still breathing from the air pocket, so much the better.

When you're ready to go, take a last deep breath and hold it. Keep your eyes open so you can see your escape route. Then go.

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