I thought I was going to die

You probably heard about the Qantas plane that recently experienced explosive decompression. In case you didn’t, here’s a news story about it. Over the past day or so you probably saw headlines like –

Qantas boss ‘horrified’ by hole
‘Massive’ hole in Qantas jet
Qantas jet was ‘rust bucket’
Qantas flight plunges 20,000ft
Hole ripped as Qantas jet dives

The most stupid of which being the last one, because the hole was ripped first, and the plane dove as a result of the hole. So why did it dive? Because the pilots cannot rely on the passengers sitting behind them to actually put their oxygen masks on, and if the plane did not dive the passengers would all lose consciousness within 75 seconds.

There have been times in a normal flight when there has been nothing wrong with the plane and oxygen masks have dropped. The passengers tend to look at them curiously. They don’t make any effort to put them on.

There is very little oxygen at 30,000 feet, certainly not enough to sustain life. It is also extremely cold at that flight level and hypothermia becomes a possible problem if the plane stays at that level for too long.

They have to dive – they have no choice, and the pilots are trained to do it. There is a risk that the plane might break up if it is damaged too badly by whatever has happened, but they have to weigh that risk against the risk of people dying from lack of oxygen and warmth.

Headlines like those seen above make me angry. In fact it makes me angry that the first thought anyone would have in this situation would be “I’m going to die”. Thinking this is an absolute waste of time and the only reason people think it is because they do not know better.

If people took the time to EDUCATE themselves before setting foot on a plane, they would know exactly why the plane went into a dive, and they would be sitting there thinking “We’re diving so people will be able to breathe – we’re diving so we won’t die. What can I do now to increase my chances of surviving this?” If newspapers stepped away from the sensational headlines, they could write about why the pilots put the plane into a dive and then anyone reading that would be educated.

I’ve written about plane safety before and the following posts are something you can read if you want to educate yourself before flying –

Plane Safety – A Must Read For All

What Not To Wear In The Event Of A Plane Crash

I once went scuba diving on the Gold Coast. Normally before you can dive you have to do a course but they have worked something out so you can try a dive without all that. Even so, before they let me get in the water, they made me sit through a lecture that seemed like it went forever where they explained to me all the various ways that I could die!

Things like.. If I breathed too fast. If I didn’t take enough breaths. If I went down too far. If I didn’t stay with my buddy. If I went up too quickly. They had a paper we had to sign which said that the risks had been explained to us clearly – and it probably said we wouldn’t hold them liable if we did die, it was a fair while ago now.

But there’s no lecture before you get on a plane. There’s no paper to sign saying you know the risks. There’s not anything to sign saying you listened to the safety briefing or took a look at your safety card. It is up to YOU to do it. If you don’t do it then you *are* putting your life at risk in the event of an emergency.

All you need to get on a plane is a ticket and some ID (and for overseas, a passport). We’ve made plane travel so easy – and so safe – that people consider it like getting on a bus. They don’t worry about safety when they get on a bus – nor do they worry about it when they get on a plane – but they should. They don’t listen to the safety briefings – they read a book or the paper.

I won’t get into the sensationalist aspect of these headlines – the use of scary words, the general stupidity of the journalists involved – even though there is an entire post in that. What I will say is that the press are missing a chance to genuinely educate people on this important topic. So we have to do it ourselves. And you can help by linking to this (and the other two posts) to educate your readers. You can also stumble this post and the two others. Just think – you might save a life – or you might save someone from panic if they do ever find themselves in this kind of situation.

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6 thoughts on “I thought I was going to die

  1. Airline pilots are primarily trained to reduce altitude not because of any lack of faith in their passengers, but more because after about 12-15 minutes, the oxygen masks are completely useless.

    Most airliners are designed only to hold enough compressed oxygen to give the pilot enough time to get down to an altitude where there is enough atmospheric oxygen available for breathing. So, in the event of an explosive decompression, they put the nose down and get down to about 8,000 feet as quickly as is safe.

    But your point is absolutely correct. It is highly likely that the pilots didn’t lose control of the aircraft at all during the incident, but rather followed their training and complied with procedure. The passengers (and the media) should be praising the pilots for being so good at their jobs.

  2. I have to respectfully disagree with you on that one Andy – pilots know that there will be people in the back without masks on, or there will be people who put their masks on but forgot to pull down as instructed in the safety demonstration which is what activates the oxygen canisters to begin creating oxygen – the majority of airliners have the kind of canisters which brought down valujet, the ones that create oxygen with a chemical reaction, but there is a tab that needs to be removed in order for them to work.

    So rather than stay at 30,000 feet, grab a portable oxygen unit and do a quick walk around of the plane to try and assess the extent of the damage to see whether the plane will survive a dive, they tend to dive right away. It takes a reasonable amount of time to drop that kind of altitude, and if I remember correctly it is only 4 minutes without oxygen before the brain is unable to function anymore.

    I also find it somewhat hilarious that they’re trying to blame this on bad overseas maintenance when the last major check on this plane was done at Avalon in Victoria – and it is possible this may have been some kind of explosion, nobody knows yet. But the press love to speculate and put all kinds of bizarre theories out there.. :(

  3. You’re right about the method of creating oxygen. I misspoke when I talked about “compressed” oxygen. My apologies.

    As for the rationale behind immediately descending, though, I’m pretty sure I’m right. Otherwise, my flight instructor (who flew DC-10s, 767s and 737s for a good many years, and still flies pressurised twin-prop Super King Airs) is in need of some URGENT retraining…

    The claims about the “poor quality” maintenance won’t end anytime soon. As soon as the media start latching onto the amount of 457 workers that are employed by QANTAS maintenance over here, expect the story to explode.

    The fact is that a lot of major worldwide airlines use Asian maintenance contractors, and they are perfectly competent.

  4. Wow I never knew that about planes :) I am one that needs educating too…. and will be spreading some of this need for education.

    Thanks as always…

    (Do I owe you some cash soon for TheRandomForest.com?)

  5. Good article, and just following on from your other post on Plane Safety (which unfortunately I can’t post a comment to) there was an incident where a woman died in turbulence because she didn’t observe the instructions to wear her seatbelt – although it is possible she was on her way to or from the bathroom at the time they hit severe turbulence; it isn’t known. More information:


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