We now know 41 people, including two children and a member of cabin crew, were killed in a terrifying emergency landing at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport yesterday afternoon. Less than half of those onboard on Aeroflot flight SU1492 from Moscow Sheremetyevo to Murmansk – 33 passengers and four crew members (including both pilots) managed to escape the plane after it erupted into a burning inferno when the rear landing gear collapsed upon landing.
Preliminary reports suggest the Sukhoi Superjet 100-95 was hit by lightning shortly after takeoff causing a loss of radio communication and possible electrical problems. The pilots decided to return to Moscow’s main airport after declaring an emergency. While initial reports claimed the aircraft was already on fire when it landed, new video evidence shows the plane bursting into flames after it bounced hard on the runway.
The aircraft veered off the runway and came to rest on grass adjacent to the runway as flames engulfed the rear of the aircraft. A video apparently shot from within the cabin upon landing shows distressing and panicked scenes as the cabin is lit up orange and passengers scream out in terror.
Cabin crew quickly initiated an emergency evacuation via the two front exits as emergency services rushed to the scene. Yet again, video evidence from this evacuation has shown many passengers evacuating the plane with hand luggage – in some cases, large rollalongs.
We may never know whether the actions of these passengers hampered or slowed down the emergency evacuation. Aeroflot has said in a statement that the aircraft was evacuated in just 55 seconds – international industry standards require planes to be able to be evacuated in under 90 seconds. But could more lives have been saved if passengers had left their luggage onboard?
It’s an important question but one that isn’t new. The Royal Aeronautical Society points to a 1984 accident in Calgary, Canada where many passengers stopped to retrieve hand luggage. The trend, however, does appear to be increasing and investigators have raised serious concerns about the role airlines and aircraft manufacturers play in allowing passengers to bring increasing volumes of luggage into the cabin with them.
Nearly every emergency evacuation in recent times has been apparently hampered by passengers taking hand luggage with them. Retrieving bags can slow down the evacuation, luggage can block emergency egress routes and just as high heels can puncture an emergency slide, so too could a cabin bag.
Despite cabin crew shouting commands during an evacuation (“Leave everything behind!”), investigators note that crew have very little control if passengers insist on taking baggage with them during an evacuation. Regulators, though, have been resistant to taking action despite mounting evidence about the devastating safety implications.
Very little is even known about what was going through a crash survivors head when they chose to take luggage with them during an evacuation. It could well be that survivors were going on ‘autopilot’ or just weren’t thinking straight. It may be that they didn’t understand the seriousness of what was happening or that retrieving their luggage could slow down the evacuation. We simply don’t know.
There have been calls to criminalise this type of behaviour – even American Airlines has called for tough punishments to be introduced as a way of educating passengers and changing behaviour. Other’s, including the Royal Aeronautical Society, have called on the industry to introduce self-locking luggage bins.
For now, though, all can we do is keep on repeating the same mantra – in an emergency, leave everything behind.