Understanding the risk of personal belongings during aircraft evacuations

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Did you know that aircraft evacuations occur more frequently than you might think? These events bring to mind the fiery plane cases, similar to the Haneda Airport incident, underscoring the potentially life-threatening risks of personal belongings.

Yesterday, January 2, an Airbus A-350 of Japan Airlines collided with a coastguard aircraft at Haneda Airport in Tokyo, Japan. All 379 passengers and crew members were safely evacuated from the aircraft, while five out of six people on the coastguard plane tragically lost their lives, according to Reuters.

Footage revealed passengers sliding down evacuation slides in a relatively calm and unencumbered manner. Aviation safety authorities have long warned that stopping to grab personal belongings during an emergency can be life-threatening.

Rewinding to August 22, 1985, a fire broke out on a British Airtours Boeing 737 at Manchester Airport in England, claiming 55 lives. The investigators revealed that most of the passengers died from smoke inhalation due to delayed opening of doors and emergency exits. This incident highlighted the importance of swift evacuation.

A US aviation safety study conducted in 2000 found that some form of aircraft evacuation took place every 11 days on average, but it only made headlines when a fire was involved. This led to an increased focus on improving the safety features of doors and emergency exits.

Understanding the risk of personal belongings during aircraft evacuations | News by Thaiger
Photo courtesy of VT FREEZE FRAME

However, the luggage that passengers take on board poses a challenge to evacuation efforts. Accident investigators suggest that airlines should encourage passengers to leave their belongings behind during an emergency evacuation. But such warnings often have little practical effect.

Understanding the risk of personal belongings during aircraft evacuations | News by Thaiger
Photo screen-capped from Nightly News

On August 3, 2016, an Emirates Boeing 777-300 made an abrupt landing at Dubai Airport in the United Arab Emirates, with smoke billowing inside the aircraft. Video clips showed passengers standing in the aisles and retrieving their belongings from overhead compartments during the emergency. Despite the chaos, the crew managed to evacuate all 300 people on board, but one airport firefighter lost his life.

In 2018, the Royal Aeronautical Society in the UK suggested that overhead compartments should be locked during emergency landings, arguing that passengers often ignore airlines’ safety instructions.

Following the recent collision at Haneda Airport, Steve Creamer, an aviation safety consultant and former senior director of the International Civil Aviation Organization, said that not carrying personal belongings during an evacuation is crucial. The successful evacuation of all people from the aircraft in this instance shows that both crew and passengers strictly adhered to safety instructions.

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Samantha Rose

Samantha was a successful freelance journalist who worked with international news organisations before joining Thaiger. With a Bachelor's degree in Journalism from London, her global perspective on news and current affairs is influenced by her days in the UK, Singapore, and across Thailand. She now covers general stories related to Thailand.

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