The Extra Mile

What would happen if you opened a plane door during a flight?

19 May 2019 - 00:10 By The Telegraph


Recently a passenger on a Ryanair flight from England to Spain tried to open one of the plane's doors. In a video recording, he is seen saying: "I will kill every single one of you." He was restrained by cabin crew and passengers, and taken into police custody when the plane landed.
In light of what happened though, the Telegraph tackled the question: what would have happened had he managed to open the door?
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The truth is that should someone actually manage to open the door of a large passenger aircraft at high altitude, the cabin would lose pressure - extremely rapidly - and chaos would ensue.Even instances of slow decompression, of which there are an estimated 40 to 50 a year, can be fatal.In 2005, a Boeing 737 operated by Helios Airways crashed, killing all 121 passengers and crew, after a gradual loss of cabin pressure. The lack of oxygen at 30,000 feet left the crew incapacitated, and the plane - on auto-pilot - slowly ran out of fuel, before plunging to the ground.In such instances, oxygen masks should drop from the ceiling to stave off hypoxia (a lack of oxygen, which leads to sluggish thinking, dimmed vision, unconsciousness and then death). In the cockpit, the flight crew will don their rubber masks and begin a rapid descent to a safe altitude - anything below 10,000 feet (mountainous obstacles notwithstanding).
Sudden decompression, which would occur if a plane door was suddenly thrust open, is another matter.
Anyone standing near the exit would be ejected into the sky; the cabin temperature would quickly plummet to frostbite-inducing levels, and the plane itself might even begin to break apart. In 1988, an Aloha Airlines flight (also a Boeing 737) with 90 people on board was en route to Honolulu, cruising at an altitude of 24,000 feet, when a small section of the roof ruptured.
The resulting "explosive" decompression tore off a larger section of the roof, and a 57-year-old flight attendant was swept from her seat and out of the hole in the aircraft.
Luckily, all other passengers were belted up, and the pilot managed to land 13 minutes later, avoiding further loss of life.
Dozens of other examples of explosive decompression have been recorded, and it often doesn't end well - such as in the 1985 case of Japan Airlines Flight 123, when such a decompression was caused by a faulty repair, leading the Boeing 747 to crash into the mountains in Gunma with the loss of 520 lives, making it the deadliest single aircraft accident in history.
Although decompression can be dangerous, it is not going to happen because a fellow flier fancied a bit of fresh air for one simple reason: it is simply impossible to open a plane door during a flight.
"Cabin pressure won't allow it," explains Patrick Smith, a pilot and author of Cockpit Confidential, a book about air travel."Think of an aircraft door as a drain plug, fixed in place by the interior pressure. Almost all aircraft exits open inward. Some retract upward into the ceiling; others swing outward; but they open inward first.
"At a typical cruising altitude, up to 3.5kg of pressure are pushing against every square inch of interior fuselage. That's over 500kg against each square foot of door."
So even Chuck Norris couldn't open it.
But what about at lower altitudes, when cabin pressure is reduced?
"A meagre 1kg per square inch is still more than anyone can displace - even after six cups of coffee and the aggravation that comes with sitting behind a shrieking baby," says Smith.
"The doors are further secured by a series of electrical and/or mechanical latches. You would need a hydraulic jack, and airport security doesn't allow those."
Incidentally, the reason skydivers can leap from aircraft doors is because those planes are not pressurised.  - Telegraph Media Group Limited [2019]
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