The chances of surviving air carrier accidents into water would be increased if Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) emergency procedures and FAA-approved survival equipment were improved. Current procedures and equipment are designed on the assumption that air carrier water contact accidents are primarily ditching, a water accident characterized by a least some preparation time and relatively little aircraft damage. In fact, a review of air carrier water contact accidents between 1959 and 1984 shows that such accidents are typically inadvertent, with no preparation time, substantial aircraft damage, and a high chance of occupation injury. Often the cabin floods quickly, followed by sinking of the aircraft within minutes. Typically, these accidents do not occur on "extended overwater flight" (the type of operation to which most FA water survival regulations currently apply) but close to an airport, during approach or departure. At least 179 fully certified airports in the United States are located within 5 miles of a significant body of water. The Board recommended the FAA require both life preservers and flotation seat cushions on all air carrier flights, and asked for improvements in life preserver design, packaging, accessibility, and ease of donning. Other recommendations deal with emergency evacuation slides, liferafts, flotation devices for infants, crew post-crash survival training, and water rescue plans at airports near water.
United States National Transportation Safety Board: http://www.ntsb.gov/