The AirSafe Journal - Issue 5

Current Issues in the Use of Smoke Hoods
7 May 1999

In the past 20 years, there have been a number of fatal airline accidents that were notable in that several passengers died not from injuries sustained from the crash forces in the accident, but from the effects of smoke inhalation. In one 1985 accident involving a 737 in Manchester, England, the majority of the 54 people killed in the event perished as a result of incapacitation from the effects of toxic gases and from smoke inhalation. In a 1983, after the crew successfully landing an aircraft after an inflight fire event, 18 occupants escaped, but 23 were killed. These deaths occurred in spite of a landing where none of the occupants were exposed to severe decelleration forces. The NTSB reported that the exposure of the occupants to smoke and toxic gases during descent and landing made it difficult to complete evacuation procedures.

More recently, after a collision between a 737 and a smaller commuter aircraft, 22 of the occupants of the 737 were killed. The NTSB reported that 11 occupants most likely collapsed and died on the way to an overwing exit due to the effects of smoke and particulate inhalation. For most passengers, the thought of being involved in situations like these is enough to make them take positive actions to increase their chances of survival. However, there may not be any one clear set of actions that could eliminate the risks for a passenger.

Smoke and Fume Risks
Passengers face two kinds of risks from aircraft fires, thermal injuries from the effects of heat and flame, and injuries from breathing the byproducts of combustion. Depending on the nature of the fire, some of the more common byproducts may be toxic gases like carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, hydrogen floride, and hydrogen chloride, or particulate matter from the combustion of cabin materials. Breathing one or more of these gases or substances can lead to unconciousness or to some kind of short or long term lung damage. While authorities in the U.S. and elsewhere require that the flight and cabin crews be provided with emergency equipment to help them deal with smoke and fumes in the cabin, no aviation authority requires any equipment for passengers. The oxygen masks on most airliners are unable to provide effective protection because most of them allow the passengers to breath ambient cabin air along with the supplementary oxygen.

Options for Dealing with Smoke and Fume Risks
Although there are no current requirements to provide passengers with smoke and fume protection, there are a number of personal protective devices on the market which passengers can use to protect themselves from smoke and fumes in the cabin. Most of these are smoke hoods, which filter the ambient air and allow some protection from toxic gases and smoke.

Should You Buy a Smoke Hood?
Before deciding on whether to buy a smoke hood for your personal use, you should first decide if this is the right decision for you. There are many things to consider.

  • There are no known events of any passenger ever using a smoke hood in an actual emergency involving heavy smoke or fumes in the cabin.
  • While several models of smoke hoods are allowed to be used, no one model has been recommended for use by any civil aviation authority.
  • Different smoke hood models have different capabilities. For example, not all smoke hoods will filter out carbon monoxide.
  • If you decide to use one of these devices, you will have to take the time and effort to train yourself in its use and to keep the device within easy reach while you are in your seat.
The AirSafe Journal - Issue 12: Current Issues in the Use of Smoke Hoods -- Revised: 24 May 2015