The escape hatch used by the Pan American World Airways cockpit crew to slip out of a hijacked jumbo jet in Pakistan is a standard feature designed for quick getaways in land-based emergencies, Boeing Co. spokesmen said Friday.
The hatch is built into the flight deck ceiling of the cockpit of all Boeing 747s to provide the three-member crews a way to escape when the regular exit is blocked, said Boeing spokesman Tom Cole.
“It’s designed for a crash, in the event of a fire, or of course, it can be used in an event such as this,” Cole said.
The three-man crew of Pan Am Flight 73 used the escape hatch to flee from four armed hijackers who stormed the Boeing 747 at the Karachi airport in Pakistan early Friday.
Merle Richman, spokesman for Pan Am in New York, said the airline’s crews are not specifically instructed to use the hatch in the case of terrorist attack.
“There is no standard operating procedure,” Richman said. “Each situation has to be weighed at the time.”
The Air Line Pilots Assn. said in Washington that it makes sense for the flight crew to escape from the plane in case of a hijacking.
“It takes away the mobility of the hijackers,” a pilots association spokesman said. “This was the first time (with the crew leaving without the hijacked passengers). The opportunity never presented itself before.”
Cole said that inside the hatch are three “inertial reels,” one for each member of the 747 cockpit crew.
A crew member would hold onto a reel handle, which is attached to a cable, and then drop at a controlled rate of descent from the roof of the plane to the ground, a distance of between 30 and 35 feet, said Dick Schleh, another Boeing spokesman.
Cole said cockpit crew emergency exits are required on all jetliners manufactured in the United States, although each model may have a different method.
“This just happened to be the version Boeing built into the 747,” Cole said.
Schleh said there are approximately 650 Boeing jumbo jets in service worldwide.