It may sound like a quick solution to saving one’s life but jumping out of a plane in a parachute may be more dangerous than one can imagine. Capt. Lim Khoy Hing elaborates on the perils.
Ian*, a young flyer from Scotland once wrote to me with many questions, as he had some very scary experiences when he first started flying.
On one of his flights to London Heathrow airport, he experienced severe turbulence. Ian heard a loud bang and the plane seemed to drop. He thought he was going to die.
The rough ride stopped after two minutes and the aircraft stabilized. Then, without warning, it seemed to drop again. Ian turned around and saw the other passengers holding onto their seats. Some were screaming. There had been an announcement earlier, warning passengers of the turbulence but Ian had no idea it would be that bad. Thankfully, the plane landed without any incidents.
Most of Ian’s questions have been addressed before in Travel 3Sixty or in my website (www.askcaptainlim.com), such as how planes stay in the air and, cope with turbulence and emergencies such as failed engines, onboard fire and lightning strikes.
One very interesting question he asked was why planes were not equipped with parachutes so passengers can jump out in the event of a crash landing. I will address this question in this month’s article.
Planes minus the Parachutes
First of all, equipping every passenger with a parachute on commercial planes is not very practical. It will also be fraught with many difficulties. Very simply, commercial planes are not designed for easy exits at high altitudes and speeds. For starters, the doors cannot be opened in midair unless the plane is depressurised below 10,000 feet.
Even if it was possible to jump out of the plane in a parachute, due to the high speed and turbulent air flow, a passenger who attempts this will get hurt during the exit, including hitting the plane or even getting sucked into the engines.
Furthermore, it is not easy to operate a parachute and land safely without basic training. The outside temperature at 40,000 feet is extremely cold (– 55° Celsius). Lack of oxygen may also cause the jumper to become unconscious very quickly.
When to Jump
Most of the time, one wouldn’t know if the plane is definitely going to crash. By the time the crash is ascertained to be imminent, the passengers will not have time for parachutes anyway. Due to this huge uncertainty, who would decide on the right time for all passengers to strap on their parachutes and commence an orderly jump out of the plane? If there is an emergency, the captain’s main responsibility is to immediately solve the problem and attempt a safe landing. He simply would have no time for any other matters.
Successful Emergency Landings
There have been three occasions where planes have successfully crash landed. In 1983, one Air Canada Boeing 757 ran out of fuel and landed safely on a disused runway where go-kart races were being held. All on board that plane survived. In 2001, a chartered Transat Air A330 landed on an Atlantic Ocean island when both its engines failed because of a fuel leak. 306 lives were saved from this longest ever glide-landing of a commercial airliner.
The latest event happened in 2009 when an US Airways Airbus A320 ditched into the Hudson River in New York. The plane had to make a controlled water landing onto the river after losing thrust on both engines due to bird strikes at about 3,000 feet. This happened just three minutes into the flight after a normal take-off from LaGuardia Airport. Miraculously, all 155 passengers and crew survived the mishap. Within those three minutes, it would not have been possible for all on board to jump out in time even if there were parachutes available.