It is a nightmare scenario that all of us have, at one point or another, imagined happening to us: you are driving along and suddenly your car drives off the edge of a bridge or a road and you find yourself quickly plunging underwater. Your car has instantly turned into a death trap, and you have seconds to figure out how to escape this 2-ton steel cage before it pulls you down to the bottom. This is exactly what happened last Friday night to a 22-year-old student named Morgan Lake when she was driving along the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Maryland, when her car fell 27-feet into the water below. Miraculously, Morgan managed to escape her sinking car and swim to safety, but it was a combination of hard work and pure luck.
Ken Burton is the president of Stark Survival, a Florida-based company which trains helicopter pilots how to survive a water crash. In an interview with The Washington Post, Burton says: “There are people who just have dumb luck. God was sitting on their right shoulders, so they get out, even without the knowledge, and that is so fortunate.” Burton’s advice to anyone who finds themselves in a car that crashes into the water, comes in the form of a 6-step emergency plan. If you follow these steps you will significantly increase your chances of escape and survival:
1. As soon as you possibly can, open all windows of the car (ideally before the car hits the water, or immediately afterwards).
2. Remain still with your seatbelt fastened as the water begins to fill up inside the car. When the water level reaches your chin, take several slow, deep breaths and hold one.
3. Only once the car has completely filled up with water is when you will open the doors. If you try and open the doors as the water is gushing in you will fail. There are more than 600 pounds of pressure on every square inch of that door when the water is flooding in, and not only will you never be able to open the door — you will also burn too much valuable energy and oxygen. Wait until the water has filled the car completely to open your door(s).
4. If you cannot open your door, you will want to smash open of your side windows. Do not ever try and smash open a windshield — it is incredibly strong and nearly impossible to break.
5. “Don’t take off your seat belt until you have opened a door or window,” Burton warns. “Grip the steering wheel before you unbuckle. You’ll need something keeping you tethered so that you can pull yourself out of the car.”
6. Once you’re out of the vehicle, let your body take you to the surface. As Burton put it: “Don’t worry about going up or down. When you take all those deep breaths and hold it, it’s like you’re inflating a balloon.”
All six of these steps should take you approximately 30 seconds.