MakeShift Challenge: Outbreak on a Plane: Most Creative Entry

Nate Gatfield’s Most Creative Winning Entry
by Lee D. Zlotoff
December 17, 2008

Solution by Nate Gatfield

I believe that the sickness could be the bends. If the airplane has an atmospheric leak, the plane’s atmospheric pressure could lower enough to cause nitrogen bubbles to form in the blood and bodily fluids of most of the passengers.

Usually it happens to deep sea divers, due to a sudden change in pressure from surfacing too fast, but it can happen both ways. If a plane loses its contained ground-level atmosphere (actually a plane maintains an atmospheric pressure equivalent to between 6,000 to 8,000 feet above sea level, but never mind that), the body is stressed for oxygen and nitrogen bubbles form in the blood.

First thing to do is get everyone seated, with their barf bags, and get the oxygen masks on them.

The next part is a little tougher. First, see if the pilots can get the aircraft down in an emergency landing within a half hour. If not, create a small torch. Use a soda can, turn it upside down, and put a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol from the medical kit on it. Stuff a piece of plastic into the center of the cotton ball. Plastic should be pretty easy to find, maybe a snack wrapper.

If no passenger has a lighter or matches, put a few small pieces of metal, maybe aluminum foil in the alcohol soaked cotton ball, and put into the microwave (if equipped) and start till a flame starts. If a microwave isn’t available to ignite the flame, you could pull the cover off a hot light bulb and push the cool alcohol wet cotton onto it to ignite it.

Use the dark smoke from the melting plastic to look for an air draft that is exiting the plane somewhere.

Once the air leak is found, depending on the size, several options can be tried. I am guessing that the hole must be about the size of a quarter. Depending on the contour of the spot on the plane where it is, the first aid box itself could sufficiently block the hole, with the lower outside pressure, to stabilize the cabin pressure enough to survive. If the contour of the plane is not flat, the first aid box could be bent to fit better.

One other option is to have the pilots fly below 8,000 feet, if they can, and if they’re allowed to fly that low in an emergency.

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