Aeroflot crash in Moscow: How can airlines prevent passengers from getting their bags during an emergency?

Air disasters are notoriously tricky matters to analyse - especially when there has been significant loss of life. They are emotive subjects which require sensitive discussion, careful consideration of all the available facts, and a refusal to leap to any conclusions.

This is certainly the case with SU1492, the Aeroflot flight which crashed at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport on Sunday. Forty-one of the 78 people on board - cabin crew as well as passengers - were killed when the Sukhoi Superjet 100 burst into flames as it landed. It had been returning to the airport shortly after taking off from the Russian capital - bound for Murmansk, a city on the Barents Sea in the Arctic Circle. Footage shows the stricken plane bouncing on the runway before its tail section catches alight.

See also: It should be grounded': Russia's home-grown Superjet is a failure

There is, as yet, no official explanation as to why the jet returned to Sheremetyevo only 30 minutes after it had departed, nor why it approached the runway at high speed. But both black boxes have been recovered, and there are likely to be answers in good time.

However, one issue has been raised as to whether the safety procedures could have been conducted more quickly - and whether passenger behaviour contributed to the loss of life. Photographs and videos of the disaster show some travellers escaping the wreckage holding their carry-on luggage.

Aeroflot says that the evacuation process took 55 seconds - which, as anyone who has ever tried to leave a crowded plane after a normal arrival would concur, is swift (it is certainly within the 90-second window which is accepted as the regulation time-period for the clearing of an aircraft during an emergency).

And it seems sadly unlikely - given the evidence that the aircraft was already ablaze before it came to a halt - that everyone on board could have made it out alive. But the question remains as to whether more people would have survived had other travellers not paused, even momentarily, to gather up some of their possessions.

There is no point here in - as other publications have done - identifying survivors or blaming individuals. Very few of us, thankfully, have had to cope with the immense pressure of extracting ourselves from a plane cabin that is rapidly filling with smoke. There is no telling how any of us would react in that situation, where every second counts; whether we would have the cool presence of mind to drop everything and run. It is not an unnatural impulse to want to snatch up your belongings before you go - especially if, say, you have landed in a foreign state, and your passport is in your bag.

Accumulated evidence suggests there is an ongoing issue here - that, despite repeated safety warnings and pre-flight advisory videos, passengers are still likely to reach for their baggage before they flee a plane in trouble.

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Look at the footage of the immediate minutes after an American Airlines Boeing 767 suffered a similar situation having aborted its take-off - amid billowing smoke and flames at the rear of the aircraft - at Chicago O'Hare Airport in October 2016. You will notice several examples of travellers retreating from the runway with cases at sides. Mercifully, all 161 passengers and nine crew members were able to escape that burning plane, and no serious injuries were reported - but the evacuation would still have taken longer than necessary had everyone left instantly, and empty-handed. The same can be said of the British Airways Boeing 777-200 which caught fire before take-off at Las Vegas's McCarran Airport in September 2015. Many of those who ran from the jet were encumbered with luggage.

This is not - obviously - to blame or to shame anyone who has been through an ordeal as terrifying as a plane crash. It is merely to point out that there is a problem. A report published by the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) last June cited several further air incidents where passengers disembarked with their bags, including the British Airways flight from Beijing which crashed at Heathrow in 2008, where one passenger was seen climbing back up the evacuation slide in an attempt to retrieve property from on board.

Interviewed by current affairs publication Forbes last summer, Nick Butcher, one of the report's authors, got to the heart of the matter - arguing that modern travellers now value their worldly goods so much that they do not consider the potentially fatal consequences - for other passengers - of reaching out for them in an urgent scenario.

"One of the things behind [airline passengers stopping to grab carry-on items] is that the things people have in their baggage with them can be very valuable - laptops and other electronics or cameras," he commented. "Twenty years ago, that wasn't the case."

The report also made an interesting suggestion - that systems should be implemented to allow overhead bag compartments to be locked remotely, and that pilots should be able to flick the switch as part of emergency procedures. Butcher added that such devices would not ensure all evacuations were seamless, but that "aviation authorities should consider the feasibility, [as] we have to find ways to stop this from happening."

The report was subsequently sent to the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) for consideration. Sunday's tragedy in Moscow only makes its evaluation more urgent.

The Telegraph, London

See also: Recent airline emergencies show a disturbing passenger trend

See also: Leave your bags behind: Emirates crash shows stupidity of passengers

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