How to escape a submerged vehicle

WASHINGTON – Survival experts say extreme luck allowed a young woman to escape when her car plunged off the Bay Bridge last week.

In an interview with NBC 4, Morgan Lake says she didn’t want to drown and was able to swim out the window and then to the surface of the water last Friday night.

So what would you do if your car was suddenly in the water, sinking? Experts say to stay calm and help any children escape the vehicle first.

If the vehicle is still partially above water, open a window to escape. But if the vehicle is completely submerged, experts say the best option is to wait until the vehicle almost completely fills with water.

AAA Mid-Atlantic says the doors and windows won’t open until the pressure inside the car matches the pressure outside the car.

AAA also says passengers should move to the rear of the car because the air pocket will be larger there while you wait for the water to rise.

Ken Burton with Stark Survival says drivers should keep a hand planted on the steering wheel and keep their seatbelt on to fight off disorientation in the dim light and murky water.

“Once its filled up, then you’re good to go through that window,” Burton says. “Wait until the water gets up about your chin. Take several deep breaths and hold it.”

Then release the seatbelt, use your arms to pull yourself out of the car. Try not to kick to avoid becoming tangled in seatbelts or other floating objects.

AAA recommends pushing off the car to help speed your route to the surface, as Lake did. In deep water, swim with the current. If you can’t swim, try to float.

Other tips from AAA:

  • Remove heavy clothing before attempting to swim to safety.
  • Keep a tool in the car such as a screwdriver to help break a window.
  • Unbuckle children or remove them from their car seats. Free older children first.
  • If side windows are blocked, try to break the front or rear windshield.
  • Most vehicles will float for several minutes before they start to sink.
  • Power windows will continue to work for as long 10 minutes

Fewer than .5 percent of all vehicle crashes involve a car submerged under water. But almost 10 percent of all drowning deaths in the United States can be attributed to being submerged in a car, according to AAA.

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WTOP’s Kristi King contributed to this report. Follow @kingWTOP and @WTOP on Twitter.

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