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Man complains about being hurried off a burning plane

One of the cabin crew panicked upon landing. She was screaming like a banshee – ‘Get off, get off’ – she was pushing people down the chute.

Tom Alrigde, complaining in a BBC News article about a member of cabin crew trying to evacuate a plane suspected of being on fire as quickly as possible. Yes, really.

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Comments and responses

Comment from Rob

by Rob

Comment posted at 18:20 on 17th April 2012.

No, not really, I heard the interview. What was said was that the only people who seemed to be panicking were the cabin crew. The implication was that they could have started the passengers panicking with their shouting.

Comment from sjhoward (author of the post)

by sjhoward

Comment posted at 23:09 on 17th April 2012.

I’m afraid I didn’t hear the interview, and I was working solely off the quotes I’d seen. Yet, however calm the passengers might seem, I would expect crew to be shouting instructions in the event of an evacuation of a (thought to be) burning plane. I wouldn’t expect them to be panicking, obviously, but I would expect them to be exhibiting behaviours that might suggest panic – like shouting.

300ish (news outlets are all pushing different numbers) people had to get off the plane in 90 seconds at most – that’s the law; in reality you’d want folks off the plane quicker than that if at all possible. That requires a fair bit of induction of urgency in the passengers – shouting, getting them to move quickly, that sort of thing. Perhaps people would interpret that as inducing panic.

There are published studies showing that door hesitancy is a substantial factor in increasing the evacuation time. It isn’t inappropriate to push passengers who are hesitating. It can save lives. The key thing is to get people off the plane as quickly as possible.

In the end, I wasn’t on the plane, and I don’t know for sure what happened. I’m sure the ensuing investigations will shed some light on this. I haven’t heard any interviews on the subject, but I’ve read quite a bit. There’s nothing I’ve seen that suggests any inappropriate action on the part of the crew, but quite a lot that suggests that shocked passengers are misremembering events.

I understand from Reuters that there were 15 relatively minor injuries out of 312 people evacuated from the plane: one injured passenger for every 19 or so evacuated perfectly safely. That’s a slightly lower injury rate that is par for the course in academic studies of plane evacuations in controlled settings.

Yet I’ve seen passengers quoted as saying that some people were pushed directly onto the concrete floor, bypassing the chute. The door of an A330 is about 20ft off the ground – that’s roughly the equivalent of a two storey building. One of these claims is plainly wrong: the claim that there were 15 minor injuries, or that multiple passengers were pushed directly onto concrete from five stories up. And how could they be pushed directly onto concrete anyway, when there’s a bloody great inflatable slide in the way?

These passengers have been through a harrowing experience. They’ve been told they’re making an emergency landing, then been shouted at, made to jump from a great height, and some of them have been injured. This is, no doubt, a traumatic experience. There’s nothing substantial I’ve seen, however, that suggests than anything the crew did was inappropriate.

Please let’s not forget that the crew themselves have had a fairly harrowing experience. I simply don’t think it’s right or helpful for people without experience or qualification to publicly criticise the crew whose actions – in a different set of circumstances – might have saved their life. In the end, the crew successfully evacuated all passengers in short order, with fewer injuries that would typically be expected – yet have been roundly criticised in the press. I think the media publicity of the potentially unfounded criticism of crew likely still in shock is really quite distasteful.

Perhaps I should have explained this more fully in the original post; frankly, when I saw the quotes, I just despaired, and possibly reverted to my usual sarcastic form.

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