Airline Flotation Devices
July 24, 2004 10:14 PM   Subscribe

I know this is a bit morbid, but have there been documented cases of airline safety floatation devices saving people? [more inside]

I know that the emergency lighting, seatbelts, and oxygen masks have been used before. But what about life vests, life rafts, and using the seat cushion as a floatation device?

I know that it’s better safe than sorry, but a story about someone actually using one of these would be pretty intriguing to read.
posted by ALongDecember to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Aviation Safety Network: Water Accident Index

This might be a starting point. Lists several air crashes involving water and whether there were survivors (click on dates). From there you could do a news search for more details about how the survivors held on before being rescued.
posted by Feisty at 10:41 PM on July 24, 2004

Patrick Smith's always-excellent "Ask the Pilot" column on Salon addressed just this topic a while back:
"Water landing" is a snarky contradiction, but over the decades a handful of airliners have found themselves, through one mishap or another, floating. At least two of these -- the 1970 ditching of a DC-9 in the Caribbean, and a 1963 Aeroflot splashdown near Leningrad, were controlled impacts with many survivors.

But, you'll argue, why waste our time when a flight is over land the whole way? Well, keep in mind that planes have overshot, undershot, or otherwise parted company with runways and ended up in the harbor at a coastal airport, sometimes without leaving the ground. If you're flying from New York to Phoenix and you're smirking as the attendant blows into that plastic tube, remember that twice since the late 1980s jets went off the end of a runway at La Guardia and ended up in the bay. Both crashes left people very much alive and very much swimming.
In other words, remember that your entree seat cushion may be used as a flotation device, and remember not to inflate the life jacket until after you exit the aircraft.
posted by Vidiot at 10:46 PM on July 24, 2004

Thanks Vidiot. I'll have to pick the book up by him.

And I thought it was ridiculous on the Simpsons where the plane goes off the runway when taking off.

Those are all normal noises. Luggage compartment closing...cross checking...just sit back and relax. That's just the engine powering up...that's just the engine struggling... That's just a carp swimming around your ankles...
posted by ALongDecember at 11:42 PM on July 24, 2004

Trivial fact: the philosopher Bertrand Russell was in a plane that came down over the Norwegian Sea in 1948. Here's how he described the experience in his autobiography:

When our plane touched down on the water it became obvious that something was amiss. We sat in the plane while it slowly sank. Small boats assembled round it and presently we were told to jump into the sea and swim to a boat -- which all the people in my part of the plane did. We later learned that all the nineteen passengers in the non-smoking compartment had been killed when the plane hit the water. I had told a friend at Oslo who was finding me a place that he must find me a seat where I could smoke, remarking jocularly, "If I cannot smoke, I shall die". Unexpectedly, this turned out to be true.
posted by verstegan at 3:16 AM on July 25, 2004 [1 favorite]

And Bertrand Russell lived into his 90s. How about that!
posted by Faze at 2:50 PM on July 25, 2004

I just flew into and out of LaGuardia. I did not go into the water, but I did see Al Franken.

I said "Hi, Al."
posted by NortonDC at 9:19 PM on July 25, 2004

i'm always tempted to turn to my neighbor when they give that portion of the speach and say "do you mind if i use your seat as a flotation device, in the case of an accident i plan on using mine as a toilet"...i'm pretty sure i stole that off of some comic...badly.
posted by NGnerd at 9:19 PM on July 25, 2004 [1 favorite]

Gah--yes, planes do go off the end of the runway at LaGuardia and end up in the water. I think about that every time I go through that airport.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:26 AM on July 26, 2004

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