In the early stages of an incident such as this, there is much that is not known. In this case, it isn't even clear how many people were onboard, so searchers don't know how many survivors to prepare for. So they go in ready to care for as many people as the aircraft can hold.
But what if you were one of the passengers? How would you get out of this alive — assuming that you survived the initial crash? That assumption is based on a lot of luck and the skill of the pilot in putting the plane down with minimal impact. But let's say you do survive — what then?
The priority list is likely to stack up like this:
- Take care of life-threatening injuries. A plane crash is likely to cause physical trauma, so stop the bleeding, clear the airway to enable breathing, stabilize fractures or potential spinal injuries, treat for shock from blood loss or simply caused by the psychological effects of the crisis. If you don't already know how to do all this, I recommend enrolling in an emergency medical technician course of study.
- Preserve body core temperature. This means shelter from exposure to wind and precipitation. (By the way, you might be able to use the cabin of the wrecked plane for shelter. Images of explosion are created by Hollywood for audience thrill, and do not reflect the reality that most planes don't explode on impact. Nevertheless, be aware of the danger posed by the potential spread of fuel and weigh your options. You might have to move away from the wreckage until the fuel has evaporated or otherwise dissipated.) Wrap up, covering the head and neck, wear gloves (mittens are better) and insulated footwear.
- Establish a shelter a short distance from the wreckage, but stay within view of it (searchers will find the wreck before they would find you if you wander away from it) and build a fire. A simple lean-to that will block the wind and precipitation is sufficient, and position the fire in front of it so the warmth reflects off the slanted roof to warm your back while the flames warm you from the front.
- Improvise shelter parts from anything you can strip off the aircraft — headliner, carpet, upholstery, aluminum panels, windows, wiring for lashing things together. If you can access some of the aircraft fuel, use a small amount (we're talking teaspoons, not gallons) to help get your fire started.
- Take advantage of every opportunity to create visual signals. Lots of smoke from your fire, reflective items to use as signal mirrors, etc. If the aircraft radio is operational, that is your first choice. Try the cell phone to see if, by some miracle, you have coverage. If you have a personal locator beacon (PLB) or SPOT Satellite Messenger, this is the time to press the magic button that will bring rescue.
- Hunker down and conserve your energy. If you are alone, do your best to keep your faith up that rescue is on its way. If you are in company with others, take care of their injuries and other survival needs, and employ positive conversations to keep their spirits up. Help is on its way, but you're going to need to be patient, especially if the weather is bad enough to slow down the process.