Thursday, February 08, 2007

Passengers fail to don oxygen masks in cabin emergency

When flight attendants do their pre-flight safety briefings, they often see a number of passengers chatting, reading their newspapers, dozing -- just generally not paying attention. You have to wonder if they'd know what to do if an emergency arose -- and if they'd do it.

A crew on a B737 fight over New South Wales in Australia found out this past November that more than half the passengers on their airplane did nothing when their oxygen masks deployed mid-flight, after a potentially dangerous drop in cabin pressure. According to an article in the Australian publication, The Age, fewer than half the passengers donned their masks right away. The rest only did so when instructed through an announcement over the aircraft public address system.

Here's what the article said about the incident:
The report, released today by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), blamed the problem on a pair of incorrectly adjusted valves which control cabin air pressure.

There was no immediate reason why they were wrongly adjusted.

The ATSB concluded the emergency response of flight and cabin crew was reasonable, considering there was no obvious cause of the problem.

But the response of passengers - all of whom had sat through the safety briefing not much than an hour earlier - fell short of expectations.

"This occurrence highlights the need for all passengers, regardless of how familiar they are with air travel, or how often they travel, to be attentive during the pre-takeoff safety briefing," ATSB said.

"For over half of the passengers to be prompted to put their masks on following the depressurisation, indicated that they may have been unprepared to deal with the emergency.

"A pre-takeoff safety briefing was mandated and served to prepare passengers for situations such as the one experienced in this occurrence."

ATSB policy is not to identify the particular airline.

The incident occurred on November 9 as the aircraft, a Boeing 737 aircraft, flew from Sydney to Melbourne.

Flying at an altitude of 12,000 metres above Jindabyne, instruments alerted the crew to reduced cabin air pressure. The pilot immediately disengaged the autopilot and conducted an emergency descent to 3,000 metres.
Fortunately, there were no reported injuries to passengers or crew during this incident.