First minutes critical to survive sinking car

First minutes critical to survive sinking car
First minutes critical to survive sinking car
First minutes critical to survive sinking car
First minutes critical to survive sinking car

Central Indiana is landlocked, but there are thousands of retention and drainage ponds around here.

Inevitably, vehicles end up in them. It happens about 30 times a year, usually in the winter. Sometimes they skid on the ice, other times, it is the result of drivers who are unfamiliar with their surroundings. All too often, we don't know what happened, because the driver and passengers do not survive to tell us what went wrong.

Carrie Mattingly and her five-year-old daughter Ava do have a story to tell - a survivor's story, which starts on December 27, 2012.

The mother and daughter were driving home from the gym, traveling eastbound on 116th Street, toward Hoosier Road. A major snowstorm hit the area two days earlier and two tires of Carrie's Honda Pilot got into the frozen slush that the snow plows left in between the two eastbound lanes.

Before she knew it, she was spinning on the road. The world went into slow motion. Her car spun in a circle. Once, twice, and on the third spin, the car straightened out and headed directly toward the fence that runs along the south side of the road. She hit it hard, then everything stopped.

"I looked out my window and I said, 'Oh my God, Ava, we're in water. Roll down your window'," Mattingly recalled.

The water was already up to her rear view mirror and pouring onto the floorboards of her SUV, but Carrie knew what to do. She unbuckled her seat belt and ordered her daughter to do the same. Then they rolled down the windows.

She says she saw a segment on the former Oprah Winfrey Show years ago on Channel 13 on how to get out of a vehicle sinking in the water. For some reason, she says she stopped what she was doing and watched the segment. She committed it to memory.

"I will say I was surprised that in a situation like that when you're panicked, that I was able to do it," she said. "But I knew what to do."

Experts say she made a textbook escape and she had the right approach. When in a situation like that, you need to depend on yourself first and call first responders later.

"Calling 911 is a waste of valuable time," said Eric Patton of the Fishers Fire Department. "You've got to have the presence of mind to save yourself, just like we have action plans at home for a fire drill, you need to have a plan for getting out of a vehicle in the water."

We wanted to see what it was like to be in a car that is sinking, so with the help of the Fishers Fire Department dive team, we set up a 1999 Chrysler with three cameras: one on the hood, looking back at the driver, one on the mannequin sitting in the driver's seat, and one on the passenger side door. Then, we let it roll into Geist Reservoir at about 10 miles per hour. You can see the view from each camera here: hood camera; driver's view; passenger side.

Since the engine is heaviest, it begins to pull down the car within seconds. It is quiet, dark, and deadly. In four-and-a-half minutes, the car has slipped below the surface. Your chances of getting out at this point are virtually zero. That's why the first minutes are so critical to survival.

Experts say you have to rely on yourself, like Carrie Mattingly did last December. She says she never doubted that she and her daughter would survive.

"When you get yourself into a situation like that, if God forbid you do, know what to do. Get those windows down. Get unbuckled," she said.

And get out.

Car and Driver magazine has a step-by-step guide on how to save yourself if you are ever in a sinking vehicle.