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The 5 Buttons You Hope Your Pilot Never Touches

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By Marissa Laliberte, Reader's Digest

Getting on a plane can be nerve-wracking. Most flights are totally uneventful, but airplane pilots are well trained to know what to do if there is an emergency. (If you’re scared of flying, these comforting airplane facts will keep you calm.) In the rare case of a real emergency, though, there are a handful of buttons every pilot hopes never to need, which pilot Patrick Smith dished to Daily Mail.

 

Engine fire handle

You know how security always makes sure you don’t have a lithium battery in your checked bag? Chemical reactions can cause the batteries to suddenly overheat and start a fire. 'The danger isn’t a small fire in the passenger cabin, where it can be readily put out with an extinguisher, but the possibility of a larger fire, involving multiple batteries, in a baggage or freight compartment,' Smith tells Daily Mail. If a fire did start in the cargo area, the pilot would need to use an engine fire handle to cut off gas from getting to the engines and literally stop adding fuel to the fire. The airplane pilot might also need to activate the cargo compartment fire extinguishing switch, which would release a chemical into the area to stifle the fire, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

 

Ditching button

The Federal Aviation Administration requires all commercial planes to have a ditch switch, but it would only be used in one worst-case scenario: an emergency landing in water. When a pilot flips the switch, the valves, air entries, and other openings on the bottom of the plane will close, according to Quora. Sealing everything won’t keep the plane from going underwater, but it will mean the aircraft doesn’t flood as quickly, so passengers have more time to get to safety. Prepare yourself by brushing up on these science-based tips for surviving a plane crash.
Sending a 7500 distress code

Pilots use four-digit codes called 'squawks' to stay in touch with air traffic control with a device called a transponder. Normally, those numbers are just use to identify the plane, but pilots also have other codes to use during emergencies. For instance, setting the dials to 7,600 means they’ve lost radio communication and 7,700 indicates there’s a general emergency—though airplane pilot Ken Hoke tells FlightRadar24 that most of those 'emergencies' aren’t dangerous. '‘Emergency’ doesn’t necessarily mean passengers and crew are in a life and death struggle worthy of the evening news,' he says. 'Most of the time, the crew is using an abundance of caution and letting [air traffic control] know that they are working with an abnormal situation.' One that is scary though? Sending 7500 means the plane is being hijacked.

 

Passenger oxygen switch

Airplanes always depressurize before taking off and landing (a hint to why you shouldn’t sleep during takeoff and landing), but if it happens rapidly in the middle of a flight, the plane will release oxygen masks automatically—and flight staff can release them manually, too. At 22,000, you’d have between five and ten minutes of 'useful consciousness' without an oxygen mask, according to Airbus. But if you’re at 40,000, that number drops to 18 to 30 seconds. After that, the pilot might need to do an emergency landing, but Smith says not to freak out. 'Try to avoid shrieking or falling into cardiac arrest. Instead, strap your mask on and try to relax,' he tells Daily Mail. 'The plane will be at a safe altitude shortly, and there are several minutes of backup oxygen for everybody.' Oh, and if you’re wondering, this is what would happen if you opened a plane door mid-flight.

 

Emergency gear extension

Airplanes need wheels for a safe landing, but if the main power system isn’t working, those wheels won’t release. In that case, the pilot needs a backup plan. An emergency extension system either gets rid of the pressure keeping the gears from moving, or lets the pilot crank the gear into the right position, according to the FAA.

The emergencies sound scary, but remember they’re extremely rare.

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