Tips that could save your life in a sinking car situation

Friday, January 3, 2014 - 5:40pm

A woman is now out of the hospital, after she drove into a water filled canal near Ascarate Lake and got trapped in her car last night.

The El Paso Fire Department said she was lucky. The canal she drove into was about 3 feet deep, so there was no chance she could sink anymore, but even that much water pressure can make it impossible to open a car door.

"In the incident we had last night, the water stopped,” said Christ Menendrez, Capitan of the EPFD Water Rescue Team. “Had the water kept on going, she would have been trapped and the circumstance could have been different."

Rescuers were able to swim to the woman. When they got there, the car was already half full of water.
A diver broke a window and pulled her out. A textbook rescue. But that is not always the case.

"When the car does get submerged in water, it averages about 30 seconds to 1 minute to go completely submerged,” Capitan Menendrez said. “In that time you need to decide what you are going to do."

He says you have to try and stay calm, act fast, and remember to do these four things.

The first is get your seatbelt off by using a knife or buy a tool called a window punch, which comes with a built in blade. You can buy them for about $12 dollars here, or at many auto shops.

Next you have to try and open a window. A window punch is designed to make it easy to punch out glass. If you have electric window, it will stop working underwater.

A heavy metal object could also work, but these tools make it easy.

"A lot of people think you can use your cell phone and throw it at the window, maybe your elbow. But it is tempered glass. You need a sharp point to break that," said Capitan Menendrez.

Also, make sure you break a side window, the windshield is reinforced glass and extremely hard to break..

After that, if you have kids get them out first, then yourself.

Even though El Paso doesn't have much water, the Water Rescue Team undergoes extensive training each year.

The team trains at Balmorhea State Park, a spring fed pool much deeper than anything they encounter in El Paso.

And one more word of advice, if you see someone drive into a canal or fall in, don't jump in after them.
A witness to Wednesday night’s crash did exactly that.

"It's never a good idea to jump into water untrained like that. Especially this time of year. The water temperature is cold and hypothermia will set in rather quickly."

If you can't get your window open, the only other thing you can do is wait for your car to completely fill with water. Once it's totally full, the pressure will equalize, and you can open the door.

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