Surviving a crash in water

Roll down the windows....
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Nicole Misencik/Eyewitness News

Indianapolis - Would you know what to do if you lost control of your car and it plunged into water?

"Don't panic. If you panic, you've lost the battle. You're likely going to die," said 1st Sgt. David Bursten, Indiana State Police.

You never plan for a crash, but when it happens, the results can be deadly. On Monday, 60-year-old Reginald Ray drowned when his car plunged into Eagle Creek Reservoir. A year ago, a family of four lost their lives in a Carmel retention pond.

Only half a percent of all traffic fatalities involve water submersion. Knowing how to get out is key. The Indiana State Police demonstrated how.

"Once you're in the water, undo your seat belt roll, down the window and get to the top of the vehicle. If you try to open the door or window as the vehicle is sinking, the weight of the water against the door will make that nearly impossible and you'll be expending a lot of energy with no results."

Power windows will often still work. "If there's not a severe impact that disables the electrical system then all of your power systems will work for 20 minutes or longer," said Bursten.

Once you're on top of the car, call for help or swim to the shore.

"Do not ride this car to the bottom. Get out on the top," Bursten said.

In a dangerous situation like that, a car can usually stay a float anywhere from two to ten minutes. Precious seconds of preparation can save your life.

"Every time you drive past Geist Reservoir mentally rehearse what you would do if your vehicle went into the water. That way you train your brain to react automatically," said Sgt. Chris Lambert, Indiana State Police.

"Honestly, statistically, it's far-fetched that this would happen to you. But as the saying goes, luck favors the prepared," said Bursten.

If you come across a car immersed in water, you can help by throwing a rope, jumper cables or anything that will float to the people in need.

Like a severe weather plan, practice can save lives.


Unbuckle seat belts (driver and all passengers)
Roll down or break the side windows. Do not try to open doors.
Get everyone out the window and go on top of the vehicle.
Sit or stand on the top of the vehicle and assess the situation.
Call for help, wade out or swim to shore.
Do not reenter the vehicle to get your personal belongings. Nothing is more important than your life.

See more tips for surviving a water crash