The National Transportation Safety Board is wrapping up its investigation into an emergency landing in St. Louis two years ago. The NTSB scheduled a public board meeting on the incident, for April 7th. You may remember this close call. On September 28th, 2007, American Airlines Flight 1400 experienced a fire in the left engine shortly after taking off from Lambert Airport. The plane turned around and returned to the airport, but the nose landing gear failed to extend. The pilot did a fly-by so the control tower could examine the gear, to determine if it had extended. The plane landed and all 143 people onboard evacuated the plane safely. The public hearing will reveal the probable cause of the incident and make recommendations that might prevent future mishaps.
A lot of research goes into how to get passengers off an airplane as quickly and safely as possible. That's a picture of me going down an emergency slide at the FAA's research center in Oklahoma City. The work at this facility focuses on safety and survival of airplane passengers and crew and has led to stronger seats on jet airliners, better isle lighting and properly sized emergency exits. In one study, researchers varied the size of the emergency exits and then paid participants extra if they were among the first to get out. They discovered if emergency exits are too wide, two or more passengers will try to get through at the same time, jamming the opening. When the openings are sized for only one person at a time, the passengers got out more quickly and smoothly.
And believe it or not, passenger planes of all sizes have the same time limit for getting everyone out safely. Whether it's a regional commuter jet or the giant Airbus 380, evacuation standards require that everyone be able to evacuate a fully loaded plane in just 90 seconds, even with only half of the available exits. Tests at the FAA research center proved why. In 90 to 120 seconds, a fire would fill the cabin with smoke and temperatures at the ceiling would be above 2000 degrees.
Researchers offer this advice to travelers:
1) Count the rows between you and the nearest emergency exit.
2) If you have to evacuate, leave your carry-on luggage behind.
3) If there's smoke, stay low but don't crawl or you'll get trampled.