Aircraft Exit Injuries

Description

This article describes the injuries that can be caused during an emergency evacuation and gives some background information on evacuation procedures and legislative requirements applicable to evacuation slides.

Emergency Evacuation

Emergency evacuation of commercial aircrafts can occur under a number of circumstances such as:

  • Survivable crash scenarios
  • Precautionary emergency landings (e.g. smoke in the cabin)
  • Actual emergencies (e.g. confirmed fire, fuel leak, engine fire, damage to aircraft)
  • Un-commanded evacuations (i.e. on passengers' initiative)
  • Security related evacuations (e.g. due to bomb threat)

Evacuation slides play an important part during the process and must:

  • Automatically deploy and erect in 6 seconds
  • Be such length that after full deployment, the lower end is self-supporting on the ground and provides safe evacuation of occupants to the ground after collapse of one or more legs of the landing gear
  • Have the capability, in 25 knot winds directed from the most critical angle, to deploy and, with the assistance of only one person, to remain usable after full deployment to evacuate occupants safely to the ground.

In addition, there must be approved means to assist passengers in descending to the ground from an exit that is higher than 6 feet from the ground. For overwing exits, this height can be measured with the flaps in either a takeoff or landing condition, whichever is higher.

The FAA may require airplane manufacturers to perform full-scale evacuation demonstrations in order to acquire type certification for new airplanes, and also for derivative models of currently certificated airplanes when the cabin configuration is unique or when a significant number of passenger seats have been added. A full-scale demonstration is a simulated emergency evacuation in which a full complement of passengers deplane through half of the required emergency exits, under dark-of-night conditions. A trained crew directs the evacuation, and the passengers are required to meet certain age/gender specifications. In order for manufacturers to pass the full-scale demonstrations, all passengers and crew must evacuate the aircraft and be on the ground in 90 seconds or less.

Injuries during Evacuation

More than 80% of reported injuries due to use of slides during emergency evacuation have been minor injuries. While relatively rare, the most serious evacuation-associated injuries were the result of jumping out of exits or off of wings.

Predominant causes of injuries are:

  • Friction from slide surface
  • Impact with the ground at the bottom of the slide
  • Falling forward onto the pavement after reaching bottom of the slide
  • Assisting other passengers with exiting the slide at the bottom
  • Anxiety from evacuation

Typical minor Injuries

  • Sprain
  • Scrapes from slides
  • Strain
  • Abrasions
  • Contusion

Typical serious Injuries

  • Fractured ankle
  • Broken leg
  • Major Bruises
  • Laceration

Other Issues and Considerations

  • Lack of data. Slide deployment events are often not documented well and most are not investigated. Therefore, research on the subject may be somewhat inconclusive.
  • Uncooperative behaviours, such as pushing, climbing seats, and disputes among passengers may be observed during an evacuation. Although such cases may include flames or substantial airplane damage, the severity of an event is not necessarily indicative of competitive actions.
  • Cabin re-entry. In some cases the passengers leave the aircraft via the overwing exits only to return to the cabin shortly afterwards. This is often the case when the flaps are not at the appropriate position to assist in passengers in their descendind to the ground. People are usually reluctant to jump from the wings. As a result, evacuation is prolonged.
  • Full-scale demonstration risks. While these are an approved (and effective) method to determine whether safe evacuation is achievable, there is a risk of injury in the process.

Accidents and Incidents

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