INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - This summer, at least a dozen drivers across Central Indiana struggled to escape as their cars sank into water. In each of the cases, what those drivers did the moment after impact meant the difference between getting out and being trapped when seconds count.
“Most drivers never think it will happen to them,” said Pike Township Fire Lieutenant Craig Voight. “But, the calls keep coming.”
Finding your car submerged in a body of water could be closer than you think. Recent vehicle submersions have been the result of everything from mechanical problems to flash flooding, accidents that throw a car from the roadway or drowsy drivers who fell asleep behind the wheel.
Rescue crews have seen them all — many with heartbreaking endings.
For Mary Kay Kidwell, it's a painful reminder of just how quickly things can go wrong. Five years ago, her 17-year-old grandson Trey was trapped inside his car as water flooded in. He had mistaken the boat ramp to a Brookville reservoir as a road in the dark and drove straight into it.
“I don't think they even realized it was water until they were right on it because it was dark and they went into the lake. The first thing I thought of was, ‘He didn't know what to do,’” Kidwell said.
Trey did what most people would do: he tried to open the doors to get out. But, because of the intense pressure of the water, they wouldn’t budge.
“He broke three door handles trying to get out,” Kidwell said. “I'm sure if he were able to open or break a window, if he knew to do that, he would have been able to swim to safety.”
Trey never made it out. Divers recovered his body early the next morning.
GET OPEN, GET OUT
For first responders like Pike Township’s Voight, it's an all too common story.
“The idea is to get out. Whatever it takes, get that seat belt off. If you've got any small children in the back or in the passenger side, get them unrestrained. Get them out of the car, then get yourself out of the car,” he said.
Timing can be critical.
“Because, if you wait to take action, it will be too late,” he said.
Recently, the Indiana State Police dive team produced a video to show drivers the proper ways to get out once a car enters the water (scroll to the bottom of the story to watch).
Just moments after impact, the driver and passenger in the video began their escape — but not through the doors. They exited out open windows instead, and climbed out onto the roof of the still floating car.
The entire exercise took them less than 14 seconds. But, they were prepared for the crash, with the car’s electric windows already rolled down.
What happens if the battery dies? What happens if the doors won’t open? How much time would you really have to get out?
TAKING UNDERWATER ACTION
To find out what really happens when a car hits the water, I-Team 8 borrowed a beat up Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme destined for the junkyard and enlisted the help of the Pike Township Fire dive team to put it in the water at Eagle Creek Reservoir.
Almost immediately after the car hit the water, the weight of the engine caused the front end to sink. But, the cabin of the car stayed afloat.
It took more than two minutes for water to reach the roof.
“You've got a good two minutes, as we saw,” Voight said. “The key is not to panic. Take the steps to find a way out. Two minutes [should be plenty of time to get out].”
- ONLINE EXTRA | Bonus video of I-Team 8 sinking a car
But, it's not enough time to talk.
“Picking up that cell phone inside the car to call for help [can be tempting], but forget that. Wait until you’re out to call 911. Forget anything of value in the car. There's nothing valuable enough to risk your life or the life of someone in the car with you. They key thing is to get out,” Voight said.
BREAKING WINDOWS TO GET OUT
Getting out won’t always be easy, however.
Electric windows may not work once the battery gets wet. An accident may damage part of the car, jamming a door shut. Seat belts may not unfasten properly.
Center punches that break the window through a burst of pressure could be a simple solution. I-Team 8 found models like the ResQMe available in local hardware stores. Many models now attach right to your keychain, and include a seat belt cutting tool on them. Simply press the punch against a window and the spring inside works to break the glass — sometimes even underwater.
But, I-Team 8 discovered tools like the ResQMe won't work on all car windows.
- ONLINE EXTRA | Car window type crucial when sinking
Watch this Indiana State Police Video showing how to escape from a sinking car:
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