This is one of those things you don't get to really practice, when you have to do it you may not have a lot of notice, and if anyone (you, the cabin crew, or the passengers) makes a mistake, people can die.
For an unplanned evacuation you should have a few things memorized and you should also have a quick reference checklist easily available. In a previous aircraft I laminated the checklist and put it on the yoke. In the Gulfstream world it has become easier. They put in on the back page of the Quick Reference Handbook and made the cover clear:
The Impact of Delay
There is no doubt that most situations that will require an immediate evacuation will be confusing and there will be pros and cons to keeping everyone seated versus running away. There were 3 fatalities and 49 serious injuries following the crash of Asiana Airlines 214. Two of the fatalities were unbelted passengers thrown from the wreckage. The third was run over by crash rescue vehicles. The flight crew asked the cabin crew to wait prior to evacuation. A flight attendant noticed fire and smoke on the right side of the airplane and initiated the evacuation, 90 seconds after the airplane came to a stop. Most of the serious injuries were spinal injuries and rib fractures. It is difficult to say if the evacuation delay made any of these worse.
Cessna Citation Latitude Example
On August 15, 2019, a Cessna Citation Latitude, N8JR, was destroyed by fire after it failed to stop on the runway at Elizabethton Municipal Airport (OA9), Tennessee, USA. On board were two pilot and three passengers (NASCAR racer Dale Earnhardt Jr., his wife, and daughter. They managed to escape from a partially open main entrance door seconds before the aircraft was engulfed in flames. Video: Cessna 680A N8JR, 2019-08-15.
I was a copilot on the KC-135A tanker for a few months short of two years, in which time the Air Force managed to crash a few and lose another after landing. The after landing loss had something to do with a fuel pump fire, a problem that plagued the airplane back then. The crew of four landed the airplane, set the parking brake, and evacuated in just a minute. The navigator and boom operator used the main crew entry hatch. Both pilots used escape ropes situated over their cockpit windows.
The copilot took some ribbing after the fact because he grabbed the end of the rope and jumped the ten feet to the ground, breaking both ankles. Seconds after he left the airplane the cockpit was engulfed in flames. I think he did pretty well.
The Impact of Panic
On February 16, 1999, film director Barry Sonnenfield (Men in Black, and others) was the sole passenger on a Gulfstream II flying into Van Nuys. The pilots flew an unstable approach and failed to stop on the runway. The airplane ended up in a parking lot where the main entry door was blocked by parked cars. The pilots then evacuated through the baggage compartment, leaving their passenger behind. Don't do that.
- The pilot flew the airplane on final approach above reference speed, landed long, overran the runway, and collided with airplanes in a tie down area. During the descent from 8,000 feet, and within 13 miles of the airport, the airplane reached speeds over 300 knots and attained descent rates in excess of 4,000 feet per minute. At 1.5 miles from the runway and 700 feet above the airport elevation, the airplane was descending at 3,000 feet per minute and flying over 200 knots. The reference speed was 138 knots with flaps 20 during the approach and 125 knots for landing. Company policy required the pilot to maintain speed within 10 knots of reference speed. Neither aircrew member considered a go around. The aircrew did not provide a safety briefing to the passenger. After the airplane came to rest, the aircrew evacuated the airplane prior to off-loading their passenger.
- The passenger reported that the airplane maintained its steep angle of descent and high speed until over the runway. After maintaining a high speed at what he estimated to be 30-40 feet over the runway for some time, the passenger said he thought the airplane had better get on the ground or go around. Then he felt the rear wheels touch down, but he thought the nose wheel was still in the air. Eventually the nose dropped but he didn't hear the thrust reversers spool up. He said he had no sense of slowing down as the airplane progressed down the runway. Then he heard the reversers spool up and he was pulled forward in his seat. Braking attempts did not feel successful to him; he could feel them cycle on and off. The airplane turned sharply to the left and felt like it was banking to the left. At that point he thought the right wheel was off the ground and the airplane would roll over. He could see that the airplane continued to travel over a grassy area and back onto pavement. Then he could see and hear it hitting parked airplanes. The airplane stopped and he did not see any fire.
- The passenger stated that shortly after the airplane came to a stop, the cockpit door flew open and the crew tried to unsuccessfully open the entry door. He felt that none of the crewmembers directed any attention to him. At this point he noticed what he believed to be fuel running down the top of the wing and said, "I think we have a problem." He heard crewmembers say, "O God, we'll go out the back," and, "let's go". All three ran by him to the back of the airplane and exited through the baggage door without directing any comments to him or offering any assistance. He went to the back of the airplane and jumped to waiting rescuers. He had not received an emergency briefing on either leg of the trip.
Death by Carry On
On May 5, 2019, a Sukhoi Superjet 100-95B operating as Aeroflot Flight 1492, was struck by lighting and returned to land at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport in Russia and burst into flames during an attempted emergency landing. Of the 78 persons on board, 41 did not survive. Passengers were seen exiting the aircraft carrying baggage, potentially slowing the evacuation and limiting the number of people able to exit before the fire overcame the cabin. Video: Aeroflot 1492 evacuation.
When I was an Air Force Boeing 707 copilot based out of Hawaii, our primary passengers were U.S. Navy officers charged with keeping tabs on the U.S. ballistic missile submarine fleet in the Pacific. They tended to carry a lot of secrets — they were dealing with nukes, after all — and we as pilots couldn't enter the cabin if they had any of those secrets spread about. I made an exception one day.
We took off and had a problem with the hydraulic system and the aircraft commander made the decision to come back for an immediate landing. We were very heavy with a full load of passengers and fuel. We dumped a fair amount of that gas but we still had a lot. The flaps wouldn't extend fully so we landed fast and cooked the brakes. The aircraft commander stopped us on the runway and ordered we evacuate the airplane.
I could hear the passengers exit the airplane, almost in a jovial mood. The aircraft commander was busy shutting the airplane down and ordered me to go all the way aft and make sure everyone was off the airplane. Just as I left the cockpit I was stopped by the flight attendant who reported everyone was off except one Navy Commander, who refused to be rushed.
Side note: the Navy uses a different rank structure than the Air Force but there is an equivalency. I was a first lieutenant which is called an "O-2" on a scale from O-1 to O-10. The Navy Commander was an O-5, so he outranked me by quite a bit.
I walked back to see the Commander stuffing his secrets into a brief case. "You got to evacuate the airplane now," I said.
"Not until I secure these secrets," he said. I grabbed him by the arm and yanked him toward the exit. He was screaming and thrashing and I think he said a few unkind things about my mother. His tirade continued as we made it out of the airplane, just until there was a loud explosion. I turned around to see both main gear engulfed in flames. I turned back and saw that Navy Commander setting a land speed record for the 100-yard dash.
The fire department put out the fires and asked us to wait about 30 minutes before reentering the airplane. I held everyone up and allowed the Navy Commander into the cabin first. His secrets were right where he had left them. He asked me how much gas we had on the airplane. "About 6,000 gallons," I said. He never said another word to me.
A Few Techniques
Each situation is unique, of course. But there are a few things you should think through before facing a sudden need to evacuate an airplane.
I mentioned the tanker crew that had less than a minute before the airplane was engulfed in flames. That was just four people in one airplane. What about 800? In either case, Advisory Circular 25.803-1A gives you 90 seconds. Here is 800 people leaving an Airbus A380 in 77 seconds: A380 Evacuation Test.
Once the airplane comes to a rest you might not know how everything is behind you. Depending on the airplane, you can improve your intel.
- If you have an external camera, especially one mounted on the tail, you can instantly improve your situational awareness.
- Train your flight attendant (if you have one) to report quickly to the cockpit after any unusual landing occurrences or after a takeoff abort.
- Turn in your seat and look. Yell to your passengers, "Is everyone okay?"
- Ask tower, "Are we in one piece? Any signs of fire?"
When ordering an evacuation, give everyone someplace to go, preferably upwind of the airplane on the grass off the pavement. This will make it easier to count heads and reduce the chance of someone being run over by an emergency vehicle.
You should have the high points of your aircraft evacuation procedure memorized. If that procedure doesn't include the need to shut the engines off and chock the nose tires, add those to your personal checklist. You can chock most airplanes with two brief cases or a couple of large Jeppesen Airways manuals.
Based on what I've witnessed and what I've read, most passengers will not understand the severity of the situation and don't realize a few seconds to get their belongings could condemn other passengers to death. It may be useful to train your flight attendants in the Sergeant Hartman (Full Metal Jacket) school of persuasion. They need to be able to scream and choose their words to have the necessary impact. "Get up, now!" "Walk to the exits, now!" "Leave your things!" If people resist, they need to be shoved. If they retrieve their belongings, they need to be shoved aside. "Out of the way, if you want to die, let others live!" Brutal stuff, yes. But brutal stuff that can save lives.
Flight Attendant Notes
You should obviously consult your manuals for aircraft-specific procedures. Absent those, here are some ideas. If you don't have a flight attendant, these procedures are your responsibility.
Flight Attendant Brief
- T — Type of emergency
- E — Whether an evacuation will be necessary
- S — What signal will be used (and when) for brace and evacuation; "easy Victor," "Evacuate," etc.
- T — Time available to prepare
Flight Attendant Notes
- Receive situation briefing from PIC.
- Brief passengers, get them started on personal preparation (below).
- Prepare the cabin (below).
- Once aircraft has stopped assess the conditions and say: "Stay seated, stay seated, I am opening an exit."
- To command the evacuation:
- "Open your seat belts"
- "Come this way"
- "Come to my voice / flashlight"
- "Leave everything"
- Pick an exit.
- At a window exit:
- "Step up, step through"
- "Leg, body, leg"
- "Run away from the aircraft"
- During an evacuation passengers may become incapacitated. Evacuate the able bodied first, seek their assistance to help those who need it.
- Tell the first person to exit to assist other passengers and send them away from the aircraft.
- Count those evacuating to ensure all are accounted for.
- Bring the medical kit, blankets, coats, if time permits.
Preparation (If time permits)
You should obviously consult your manuals for aircraft-specific procedures. Absent those, here are some ideas.
Preparation (If time permits)
Note: see G450 Ground Evacuation for aircraft specific procedures.
- Seat backs upright, seats tracked to their approved positions, stow tables.
- Remove dangerous objects from passengers (stow eyeglasses in a sock or seat pocket).
- Stow all loose articles, anything that could become a projectile (laptops, service dishes, flowers, etc.)
- Duct tape all galley sliding doors.
- Dim lights just prior to landing.
Preposition Needed Assets
Place medical kit, blankets, and extra flashlights in a bag and stow securely.
You might want to consider distributing smoke hoods, if available.
- Void bladder.
- Remove jewelry, watches, stockings, etc.
- Change into pants and long sleeve shirts made of natural fibers (denim, cotton).
- Wet hair to remove flammable hair products.
- Execute aircraft specific procedures, such as G450 Ground Evacuation.
- Once the aircraft is stopped, assess the environment and select an evacuation exit.
- Redirect passengers to the selected exit.
- Beware of fire, debris, rescue vehicles, and other obstructions outside the aircraft.
Once outside the aircraft
- Assemble all passengers at least 100 yards upwind of the aircraft.
- Do not permit anyone to smoke.
- Do not allow anyone other than rescue personnel to enter the aircraft
- Treat the injured, as necessary.
Cartoon: Emergency Selfie, from Chris Manno
Advisory Circular 25.803-1A, U.S. Department of Transportation, 03/12/12
National Transportatio Safety Board Aviation Accident Final Report, LAX99FA101, Grumman G-1159 (GII) N711TE, 02/16/1999.