The footage of an almost 300 meter long container ship ramming the pillars of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in the US city of Baltimore and causing it to collapse went around the world. Around 24 hours later it is clear: six people probably did not survive the collapse (stern reported).

As tragic as the fate of the construction workers is, it could have been much worse. The crew of the freighter had made an emergency call shortly before the collision, and officials were able to prevent further vehicles from getting onto the bridge.

However, some cars apparently fell into the Patapsco River. A horror scenario for drivers. How do you survive such a situation?

The first danger, of course, comes from the fall itself. Depending on the height, driving speed and angle of impact, this can be fatal – especially if the occupants are not wearing their seat belts.

The good news: If a car falls into the water, it is only submerged for a short moment and then floats to the surface. The vehicle usually drifts with its tires downwards, often for minutes, as the German Life Saving Society (DLRG) writes. This is exactly the critical time window.

The first thing occupants should do is unbuckle their seat belts and turn on their hazard lights to make it easier for helpers to locate them. Now it’s important to get out of the car as quickly as possible through the side windows or the sunroof. If they cannot be opened, they can usually be smashed in with a hard, edged object. With the windshield (which is usually made of laminated glass) this is not possible for good reason!

The ADAC recommends having an emergency hammer in your car, which can be used to break the window without much effort. Many of them also have a belt cutter integrated, such as the Lifehammer Evolution.

Depending on where the engine is installed, the car tilts in the corresponding direction; uneven weight distribution or currents can also cause the car to spin and disorient the passengers. It is particularly risky in two-door cars with a front engine if the rear side windows cannot be opened or are too small.

As long as the people in the front are able to do so, they should help the passengers in the back seat. As expert Gordon Giesbrecht explains in the Washington Post, pushing from the inside is far easier than pulling from the outside. Important: Especially if people are sitting in the back seat, passengers in the front seats are under no circumstances allowed to open the doors. In this case, large amounts of water rush into the car in a short time – people in the back of the vehicle would hardly have a chance.

The car will sink, it’s just a matter of time. What then?

Once a car is completely submerged, the chances of survival decrease rapidly. Not only do electric windows probably no longer work, but breaking them is now almost impossible. Depending on the depth, the water pressure can also dent the roof. By the way, the fact that a life-saving air bubble forms is deceptive. A bubble is created, but it has a rather small volume. In addition, most of the air collects in the trunk, but it is probably no longer accessible by this point.

According to expert Giesbrecht, hypothermia is not an immediate problem. It takes around an hour for a cold-related cardiac arrest to occur. The shock of the situation itself is much more dangerous: “The first thing that happens when you’re in cold water is cold shock, which means panting and hyperventilating or heavy breathing,” he said. The low temperatures can paralyze muscles and nerves, impairing the ability to swim.

“Because fear easily turns into panic, drivers must deal with the idea of ​​a possible fall into the water in good time and mentally rehearse the rescue several times,” advises the DLRG.

Sources: DLRG; ADAC; “Washington Post”

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