Things you are not told about aircraft emergencies

Think you know what happens in emergencies? Think again.

Alfred Yeo| March 09, 06:12 AM

Editor's note: Our thoughts and prayers are with the cabin crew and passengers of flight MH370. Hoping against hope, we wish for the speedy discovery of plane's whereabouts.


No one ever hopes to encounter anything untoward on their travels, especially 30,000ft up in the sky. Despite safety demonstrations being mandatory, how many people actually bother to pay attention to them?

Singapore Airlines had the unfortunate luck to run into two unlikely events with their new fleet of A380s.

SQ308 experienced severe turbulence en route from Singapore to London in 2013, causing 11 passengers and 1 crew member to sustain minor injuries. The second, more recent incident, happened in January this year on SQ317, en route from London to Singapore. The Airbus A380 experienced sudden cabin depressurisation, causing oxygen masks to be deployed, and the aircraft was forced to make a rapid descent. The plane landed at Baku, Azerbaijan “uneventfully”. The decompression was eventually determined to be the result of a leaky door.

SQ turbulence

Source: Jeleeb


Things you should know about aircraft emergencies but don't

Being caught in either one of these situations can be frightening. We'll give you an insider's peek into some of the things happening behind-the-scenes and hopefully this will help you deal with the situations better.

1. Because oxygen supply on an aircraft is limited to last just over 10 minutes, the pilot must immediately do a steep descent to 10,000 feet. It is only at this level that passengers and crew are able to breathe normally.

2. Next, the pilot makes a call to Air Traffic Control and declares an emergency. The aircraft will then be given priority for landing. Emergency vehicles will also be deployed to the runway as a precaution.

3. All commercial aircrafts have a transponder which squawks a 4-digit code identifying the aircraft and its altitude to controllers. The pilot will change this code to the international emergency code of 7700.

Interesting fact: the squawk code for a hijacking is 7500, which allows a pilot to alert controllers of a hijack covertly.

1. The co-pilot will then call flight attendants to assess the condition of the cabin. This includes determining the extent of aircraft damage and passenger injuries, if any.. This will allow ground crew at the airport to arrange for the necessary emergency services.

2. The pilot finally flies to land at the nearest suitable airport.


Some things they don’t tell you in the safety video.

1. If you are in the toilet, calmly and quickly move to the nearest empty seat and don a mask immediately. At 39,000 feet, you have about 30s before you become unconscious.

2. Fasten and tighten your seatbelts. If you are not strapped in properly when the pilot makes the sharp descent, you could end up being thrown around the cabin and hurt.

3. Put on your mask. Do not be alarmed if you are not able to exhale properly, as the masks work by forcing oxygen into your lungs. There are cases when the mask above you does not deploy. If this occurs, pry the compartment open to free the mask. Sharing masks is also possible.

4. The rapid loss of pressure can cause mist to form in the cabin which can be mistaken for smoke. If you’re unsure, take a sniff. Mist is odourless.

5. Put on all your warm clothes. The outside air temperature can be -40 to -60 deg Celsius. If the decompression was caused by a large hole in the fuselage, the cabin will become dangerously cold, quickly. Also, if the plane crash lands in a cold climate, warm clothes could mean the difference between life and death while waiting for rescuers.

6. Put on your footwear. In the case of an evacuation, the aisles could be strewn with sharp debris which can hurt you and slow down your evacuation.


While these facts may sound worrying, knowing why you do what you do in emergencies could one day possibly save your life.


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Top photo from Getty.

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