Escaping a submerged vehicle



ALIVE Truck Proof

ALIVE Car Submersion

Rescue in Car Accidents in the Aquatic Environment

Every year thousands of vehicles worldwide end up in the water, by accident or on purpose. About 15% of them are fatal. A study of many years, in which different kinds of passenger vehicles were driven in several ways into the water, in order to study all possible cases, led to the following interesting observations and to the establishment of real lifesaving techniques through immediate action.


Floating phase
The actual duration of the floating phase is different for every case/car, in function of:

  • The kind of car (open/closed, large/small, minivan etc.)
  • The way of landing in the water (on 4 wheels, on the roof, sideways etc)
  • The kind of damage (with a crushed rooftop, broken windows, the condition of the body work)
  • The kind and localisation of the load
  • The localisation of the motor

Depending on the above-mentioned facts, the vehicle will sink frontward or backwards while the remaining air that keeps it floating escapes.

Positioning on the bottom
In decreasing order of quantity, the vehicles are recovered on the wheels, on the roof, on the side or nose down stuck in the mud.

Air Bubble
During the floating phase, there is as yet an air bubble that decreases as the vehicle sinks to the bottom. While the escape is prepared, and insofar as there is still air present, breathing remains possible.

In contemporary cars, equipped with a flatter rooftop compared to earlier days and with optimal air ventilation, that are recovered on their 4 wheels in more than 2.5m depth of water, an air bubble or only approx. 2 cm just under the rooftop was detected.

In cases where the rooftop was covered with maximum 50 cm water, slightly more air was detected (up to 5cm). This remaining air is very difficult to detect, due to the sagging of the rooftop's wet soft furnishing.

Only with the knowledge of certain techniques, can this remaining air bubble be used for breathing. With vehicles that were detected in different positioning, more of less no air remained inside.

Electrically-operated windows and doors
Will sooner or later no longer function, but this will not necessarily immediately follow the plunge, considering that the concerned equipment is well protected against water. Opening the doors or breaking the windows with a "rescue hammer" or with the bottom of a fire extinguisher is difficult but still possible.


  • The lifesaving escape has to be planned and prepared, while breathing in the eventually available air bubble
  • Avoid panic by remaining calm and giving clear instructions
  • Remove the safety belts, of the children in the baby seats as well
  • Place the small children with those who will leave the vehicle first

Abandon the vehicle AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE. Survival changes decrease as the car sinks deeper


  • Open the SIDE WINDOWS
    In case this doesn't work, break them with the UNDERSIDE of the fire extinguisher, or better, with a "rescue hammer". As long as the vehicle floats, this will succeed after several energetic efforts. Using the fire extinguisher is very difficult under water. NEVER try to break the windshield because it is made out of layers glass. WATCH OUT! The rear side of window can often only be opened half way (child protection), which makes escaping through them very difficult, if not impossible. [listitemIn case escape through the side windows does NOT succeed, the DOORS are also an escape possibility. Open the lock. Push very powerfully with shoulder and arm against the door till it opens. Because of the counter pressure of the water this WILL NOT be easy. Even with all air gone from the car, a lot of power is needed to succeed in this. In case the vehicle is still floating, the water will now strongly flow inside, thus shortening the floating time drastically.
  • The BEST SWIMMERS or INITIATORS abandon the car FIRST. They hold on to the roof edge with both hands. Backwards, head first, face up; they pull themselves out, holding on to the car
  • Subsequently the other passengers are pulled out of the vehicle, in so far they did not escape already in the same way
  • In anticipation of getting everybody out of the car, the needy can be put on the roof of the car if it is still floating or has sunk in shallow water
  • Then lead the needy ONE BY ONE to the shore.
    When it is only possible to leave the vehicle under water (sinking or sunk), it is primordial to keep contact with the car if remaining passengers in the car are to be rescued. Breathing in air at the surface and then diving back is only possible in very limited depth.


    Call on help is a must, but will probably come too late.
    Real help can only be given by going into the water.
    • Because a floating vehicle behaves as a boat, one can try to pull it closer to the shore with some kind of rope or a human chain
    • In case the passengers do not open either door or window, a side window has to be crushed or a door has to be opened by supporting both feet on the framework and pulling the door handle very hard
    • Further actions depend on the physical condition and the aquatic experience of the lifesaver

    Following the above-mentioned directives gives passengers of vehicles that get into the water real survival chances.
  • What to do when I come upon a casualty in the water

    Always consider your own personal safety,  Never dive in without completing a risk assessment 

    In as much as you can you assess the following:

    • The degree of urgency
    • The numbers in danger
    • The observer’s own abilities
    • The condition of the subject(s)
    • The aids or assistance available
    • The weather and water conditions e.g. river current or rip currents
    • The distance of the subject(s) from shore

    Seek assistance – Shout for HELP

    Instruct another to dial 999 or 112 and ask for Marine Rescue

    Use your voice to calm the casualty and issue instructions and encouragement to assist them to a place of safety. There may be no rescue equipment available.

    If this fails then use a coat, branch of a tree, brush handle or other available rescue aid to complete a reaching rescue.

    When available always use Public Rescue Equipment e.g. ringbuoy, lifebelt or throw rope.

    If the location allows conduct a wading rescue with care and only if you are a trained lifesaver.

    A swimming rescue should only be attempted if you are an in-date trained lifesaver.

  • Irish Water Safety,  The Long Walk,  Galway,  Ireland.
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