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Home > Air Security > I am really afraid of terrorist attack and bomb exploding in an airplane.
I am really afraid of terrorist attack and bomb exploding in an airplane.
Aviation - Air Security
Written by Capt Lim   
Saturday, 12 July 2008 07:53
Dear Capt Lim,

I am flying in one week's time and I am really afraid of a terrorist attack, i.e. a bomb exploding inside the airplane. What happens to the plane if a bomb explodes? Also, most importantly, what happens to the passengers? Would you be aware of what is happening and do you get sucked out of the plane?

I have read that cargoes on planes are not screened. Do all passenger flights carry cargo and what is the ratio of cargo to luggage?

Thank you,

Cheryl

Hi Cheryl,

I have answered a similar question on this in my FAQ before. Security checks today are getting very stringent. Some airports are taking more steps than others. For instance, in the Boston Logan Airport, where two of the airplanes that crashed onto the Twin Towers originated, they have recruited clam diggers that worked in the muddy flats around the Airport to keep their eyes for suspicious characters. Why? This is because shoulder-armed missiles today are alarming security experts. Remember the Israeli airliner that was nearly brought down in Kenya in 2002? This incidence was the result of such cheaply and handy weapons that are easily available to terrorists who could make many less secured airports around the world very vulnerable.

I recently did a flight from the Middle East to the US and even though I was the captain of the flight, I was subjected to 3 very thorough checks before I was allowed to even board my own airplane! I had to take off my jacket and my shoes as well before I went through the final screening! They were indeed very thorough!

Now, to answer your question about bombs exploding inside the airplane; In the unlikely event of a minor bomb exploding in the cabin and provided no control cables are affected, there may be a rapid depressurization. The pilot will definitely be aware because of the sudden loss of pressure accompanied by a loud bang. He would also have visual and audio warnings in the cockpit instruments. It is possible for all loose articles and passengers not properly strapped in to be sucked out through the hole. The oxygen masks would drop from the ceiling and the Captain would commence an emergency descent to 10,000 feet or to a safe level.

I believe in certain airports, all cargoes are screened for explosives before they are loaded into the cargo compartments. Yes, most passenger flights do carry some cargoes. I can't tell you exactly the ratio of cargo to luggage because the policy for different Airlines may vary. What I can say is that, cargoes are generally restricted by the volumetric size rather than by weight.

Have a safe journey always!

Hi again,

Thank you for answering my question. I am a little confused in the case of a minor bomb as you told it. If you are strapped in your seat and there is a hole, can you still get sucked through? Does it depend upon your location in the aircraft?

In this situation, would the passengers be able to put the oxygen masks on? I have a four year old child. Would there be enough time to put mine on and then his? If the bomb was large enough, would the plane start to disintegrate immediately and what happens to you if you do get sucked out? Does rapid depressurization occur only at certain altitudes?

What happens to you when a plane crashes into a building or mountain? Do you die on impact or do you get burnt alive from the explosion?

In a situation such as the Egypt Air crash when the pilot brought the plane down, were the people conscious the whole time because I read that the flight recorder recorded the two pilots talking the whole way down?

Sorry for all the gory questions. Nobody ever survives these catastrophic events, so there is never a survivor's account and that is a big part of my fear. I imagine the most horrific death!

Thank you very much,

Cheryl

Hi Cheryl,

You must learn to think positively. As a statistician had estimated, the probability of there being a bomb on any given flight was one in a million. That is like striking a lottery! Do you know that the mortality rate is even worst if you were to compare being killed by a bomb aboard a plane to driving a car or catching a coach to the airport? You are thinking about all the negative things that can happen during air travel! No wonder you feel very concerned about flying in the air!

Okay, I suppose you need some assurances. I was trying to be less negative by explaining about a minor bomb. If it were a major bomb, the consequences would most likely to be similar to the Lockerbie bombing incident in 1988 where all the 259 passengers had perished. Back to my description of a minor bomb; if you are strapped into your seat and the hole is away, you are unlikely to be sucked out. In one incident in Hawaii, there was a severe decompression in the first class compartment when the roof was ripped off. Only the flight attendant, who was not strapped in, was sucked out from the cabin. The rest of the passengers who had their seat belts on, were still securely fastened to their seats when the aircraft finally made an emergency landing.

Once an airplane has fully depressurized in the aftermath of the explosive decompression, the air would be equalized and you would be able to use the oxygen masks. Yes, you would have sufficient time to put on the oxygen mask. Remember, YOU MUST put on the mask FIRST before you attend to your child. The reason is, hypoxia (lack of oxygen) may affect you and cause you to lose consciousness if you try to fit the mask to your child first. That is why you have to be conscious first to save your child!

As you have said, no one has survived an air explosion to tell the tale, so I can't tell you what will happen to a person who has been sucked out. The flight attendant who was sucked out in the incident above was never found.

Rapid depressurization will occur at a normal cruising altitude of about 35,000 feet. The first action of a pilot, following an explosive decompression is to carry out an emergency descent to 10,000 feet or to a safe altitude due to high ground. That descent will take about 4 to 6 minutes. Your emergency oxygen will last for 22 minutes.

I just cannot give you a precise answer as to what would happen when an airplane crash into a building. No one has survived the September 11 incidents. If an airplane crashed into a mountain, there have been survivors before. Your questions about what would happen to the victims of air crash is similar to asking, what would happen to them in a very severe motorway accident? I am sorry I just cannot answer these difficult questions like how one would die during the impact nor how one would be burnt by the explosion; or whether they would remain conscious or unconscious on the way down. I would rather think positively and have control over my mind rather than let negative thoughts control me!

So, fly safely and think positively when you embark on your next journey by air! Remember, your chance of encountering such a disaster is one in a million!

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