One of the first things to be wary of after a crash of any kind is head trauma.
Although the skull does a good job of protecting the brain—only about ten
percent of all head injuries require hospitalization—a plane crash is very
likely to cause more serious head injury. The most common potential
complications are concussion, intracranial hematoma (blood clot between brain
and skull), and skull fracture. Victims of such serious head trauma should be
kept prostrate with head and shoulders slightly elevated. Stop bleeding with
any cloth handy, and watch the person's vital signs. If breathing stops, CPR—an invaluable skill for dealing with all sorts of accidents—is essential.
Shock, which may result from injury, infection, burns, and other accidents, is
caused by a reduction of blood flow. This produces a decrease in blood pressure
and an inadequate supply of oxygen to body tissue. A victim's skin may appear
pale or cool; his heartbeat may be weak and rapid, accompanied by shallow,
hurried breathing; his eyes may be lusterless, with dilated pupils; and he may
be faint, confused, or weak, if conscious at all. You should immediately lay a
shock victim down, face upward, with the head below the level of the feet. Keep
movement to a minimum, and keep the person warm and comfortable, but do not
give him anything to drink, even if he complains of thirst. Otherwise, treat
his other injuries as well as possible until help arrives.
Fractures are perhaps the most common emergencies following crashes. The proper
approach to fractures, while waiting for emergency medical assistance, is to
protect the injury from further damage. Do not try to set a broken bone; you
will likely do more harm than good. The most crucial thing is to immobilize the
injured area. Use a splint to immobilize the joints above and below the
fracture. If the fracture has caused bleeding, apply pressure to stop the
bleeding, and if possible elevate the area above the level of the heart. Also
look for signs of shock, and treat accordingly.
After a plane crash, you may find yourself stranded in freezing conditions.
Such exposure, if prolonged, may cause the skin and underlying tissues to
freeze. The skin grows hard, pale, and cold, and the area becomes insensitive
to touch, although there is probably a sharp, aching pain. This is frostbite.
First, warm the area by any way possible: If it's your hands, tuck them under
your armpits; if it's your nose, ears, or face, cover the area with dry, gloved
hands. Do not rub the affected area, and if it's your feet, do not walk; allow
them to dangle while you wait for help (or someone else goes for help). If
you're able to heat water, use warm—not hot—water to warm the area. Do
not use other heat sources such as heating pads, because they will probably be
too hot and burn the area.
If you're stranded in a warm climate, insect bites can be a major hazard while
you wait for help. People who are allergic to bee, wasp, or ant bites (about
one person in ten) will find this a serious hazard. For this reason, anyone
flying a small plane should carry insect repellant as well as first-aid
equipment for stings and bites. You should remove any stingers left in your
skin with a tweezers. You can use baking-soda paste or ice to reduce pain, and
a hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion can be effective in reducing itching
and inflammation. An antihistamine, such as Benadryl, is also very effective
for insect bites.