• Aircrash Survivor Stories: Preparing For Your ICAO English Exams

    When we think about air crashes, we generally think of the worst case scenario – fatalities. However, there are also survivors of these traumatic and surreal events with vivid stories to tell and valuable lessons learned.

    The UK Guardian featured a series of interviews with survivors of air disasters in its newspaper in February 2009. These interviews were carried out by Ros Anderson and Charlotte Northedge .

    Let’s look at one of these stories and answer the questions that follow it.

    Interview with: Upton Rehnberg, 72

    Flight: United Airlines flight 232
    Crash landing: Sioux City, Iowa
    Date: 19 July 1989

    I’d changed on to flight 232 at the last minute in the hope of getting home from a business trip for my son’s ninth birthday. I usually ask for a seat at the back, but 9A, a window seat by the left side emergency exit, had been one of the last available. If I’d taken my usual seat, I would be dead.

    I was sitting in front of a flight attendant and, just over an hour into our journey, I leaned over to her and said quietly, “The pilot is flying this plane in a very strange way.” There had been a loud explosion, but an announcement had reassured us that we had lost only one engine and everything seemed to return to normal. The attendant said, softly, “Hydraulics.” I didn’t know that everything on that plane worked off the hydraulic system, and it had lost all power.

    The flight attendants gave every appearance of business as usual. Then, 30 minutes after the explosion, they told us to adopt the brace position. They said we should be prepared for the worst.

    I still didn’t think we were going to die. I assumed they would be able to get the aircraft down. It was quiet. I remember taking off my tie – I don’t know why. I put my reading glasses in my shirt pocket, tied my shoelaces and waited.

    I later learned that we hit the ground at 260mph; the normal landing speed is around 150. The right wing hit the ground first and started a fire. The plane slammed down, bounced up, came back down on to its nose and began to cartwheel.

    The noise and impact were incredible. I couldn’t hold the brace position and I bounced upright with my arms over my head. A fireball of burning fuel came through the seal of the door next to my left knee and hit me in the face. It melted the front of my Dacron shirt, burned my chest and the gap between the tops of my socks and my trousers.

    The plane broke into five sections and each went in a different direction. We were thrown around viciously, and I was knocked unconscious. When I came round, I was hanging upside down from my seat belt. I undid it and walked across the ceiling of the cabin to the exit. There were cables hanging down, so I held them up, letting the people behind me get out. I was just aware of the need to keep people moving so they weren’t blocking each other.

    In a plane crash, people sit around waiting for direction, but being prepared can make all the difference. Now when I fly, I wear natural fibres. Often I wear a sweatshirt with a hood. A man in the burns unit with me was a flight engineer, and he told me that when airline personnel are passengers, they’re taught to cover their head with a blanket in an emergency landing. But there aren’t enough blankets for every passenger.

    Dressing in a way that covers up as much of your body as possible, counting the rows from your seat to the emergency exits, knowing how to open them and moving quickly can make all the difference. You are the person you have to look to to save your life.


    What led Mr Rehnberg to think that something was wrong with the aircraft?

    When the passengers were warned they should prepare for the worst what was his reaction?

    How was he injured in the crash?

    What does he say makes all the difference in the aftermath of an air crash?

    What is his advice to future aircraft passengers?

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