How to survive crash in water

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Water rushes up the windshield as the driver panics and bangs against the side windows.

The water creeps in from all directions and quickly begins to fill the car. The driver pushes his body against the door, but the water pressure on the outside has sealed it shut. The electric windows won't roll down. The car begins to nose-dive into the murky water as the engine weighs the car down like an anchor. And there is total darkness.

In Florida, about 4,800 car accidents each year end with a submerged vehicle, according to Sgt. Kim Montes, an FHP spokeswoman.

"Even though it's a rare occurrence, we are in a state where you are surrounded by water," she said.

Two recent instances illustrate how important it is for drivers to have an exit plan before they leave their driveways, particularly in today's world where more people on the road are distracted by cell phones and GPS.

On Monday morning, Sparkle Corinee Pomeroy lost control of the Toyota Scion she was driving southbound on State Road 417. The SUV crossed the grass median, entered the northbound lanes and rolled into a retention pond. Three passers-by came to her aid but could not free her.

Divers with Orlando Fire Department removed the 26-year-old Orlando woman from the wreckage about 30 minutes after the crash. She later died at Orlando Regional Medical Center.

On Feb. 2, Umberto Delgado's truck rolled into a retention pond near the southbound exit ramp to Plant Street from State Road 429. He dialed 911 and calmly talked to dispatchers about his location as his 2001 Chevrolet truck sank. Delgado, 22, of Tangerine told dispatchers he did not know whether his car was sinking but he was trying to get out. He stayed on the phone with dispatch. The line went silent in 1 minute, 44 seconds. Paramedics did not reach the scene in time. Delgado drowned.

In these situations when seconds matter, it's best to first get out of the car, said Jim Solomons, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Office, which answers 911 calls in the county. Emergency personnel might not get there in time to rescue — unless they are nearby.

About 300 people die in submerged vehicles nationwide each year, said Jessica Brady, a spokeswoman with AAA Auto Club South. She said it is important for families to make a plan in case of a water emergency and then talk to passengers before hitting the road.

Doors often don't open because of water pressure pushing against them. Brady said windows are the best exit. The driver and passenger should roll down the windows the minute the car hits the water, she said. People should avoid popping out the front windshield. It will cause too much water to flow in and sink the car faster, Brady said.

Banging your hands on the window isn't enough. Try rolling the windows down. The electrical power does not always go out. If the windows are stuck, let the car partially fill up with water and try to open a door or use a sharp object to shatter the window, said Bob Smith, a retired director of the Diving Business and Technology Program at Florida Keys Community College. He does not recommend that people toss a hammer under a seat. If the car rolls, it could come out and knock a passenger unconscious.

Smith tested window breakers on submerged cars and school-bus windows and found that any spring-loaded punchers made it easy to shatter even a bus' double-pane window."It's invaluable because they work," said Smith, who's currently public-safety diver for the Monroe County Sheriff's Office.

Products such as LifeHammer and ResQMe sell for about $10 to $15 at AAA offices or ACE Hardware stores. They also cut through seat belts.

Smith, a specialist in physical stress management, said a breaker can save a life, but the "battle begins psychologically with self-control." He said the person needs to think through an escape plan beforehand. Most people can hold their breath for about a minute

."The general experience you're having is often worse than you thought, and that immobilizes you," Smith said. People need to control their fear to survive, he said.

"You have control over that," Smith said. "Think about what you're supposed to do rather than what's happening to you."

Eloisa Ruano Gonzalez can be reached at 407-650-6673 or egonzalez@orlandosentinel.com.

How to escape a submerged vehicle

Make a plan early on; share it with family and passengers.

Secure a window-breaking device in an easy-to-reach area. Don't stash an unsecured hammer. It can injure you if the car rolls.

Try to open the side windows once your car hits the water.

If windows don't open, let water partially fill the car and break the window on a low corner. Keep your seat belt buckled until the window shatters. As water rushes in, it could toss you from your seat. If you then hit your head, it could knock you unconscious.

Don't break the front windshield. Water will fill the car and cause it to sink faster.

Crawl out the back side window if the car nose-dives.

Others who died when vehicles landed in water:

Popular radio personality Erika Roman of Power 95.3 died in May after her car landed in a canal on Florida's Turnpike after she swerved to avoid a chair in the road. Witnesses leapt in to try to pull her out of her 2007 Nissan Sentra. They broke the driver's-side window to get Roman, 31, out, but were unable to free her from the seat belt. Roman had been underwater for about 12 minutes when her impromptu rescuers used a chain to pull the car out by hand. An FHP trooper performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation, but she did not regain consciousness.

In 2000, the 19-year-old son of basketball legend Julius Erving drowned when his car landed in a retention pond as he was taking a shortcut home. Investigators said his Volkswagen Passat was traveling 27 to 38 mph when he became disoriented. The 6-foot-4-inch teenager was driving with the seat almost completely reclined and likely did not see the pond until it was too late to brake. Erving's car completely submerged in three minutes.

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