Refusal of US to Require Lights
Weighed as Factor in Airliner Death Toll
By Richard Witkin for wire services
From the New York Times
The role played by a flashlight in the rescue of survivors of the airliner crash in the Atlantic Sunday night raised the question why United States airlines are not required to equip individual life vests with lights.
The pilot of the piston-engine Flying Tiger Line craft, John D. Murray, has been quoted as saying:
“if it was not for the flashlight, it would have taken much longer to find the raft.”
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) recommended in 1957 that all life vests have a”a means of electric illumination” as standard equipment.
But the United States Government exercised its prerogative of disagreeing with the requirement. Under the rules of the ICAO – a United Nations specialized agency with 98 members – the United States thereby was freed from any obligation to comply with the recommendation.
No Other Dissents
A spokesman for the agency said he knew of no other country that had similarly taken issue with the recommended safety standard.
This country’s two largest international lines, Trans World Airlines and Pan American World Airways, have no individual life-vest lights. Among others who do not are Eastern, National and Northeast.
Though life-vest lights are not required in this country, at least two major US lines with over-water routes have lights on individual crew and passenger vests. They are Northwest Airlines and United Air Lines.
So do all Air Force planes on over-water runs. The military vests also have whistles, dye markers and shark repellant.
Vests used by the British Overseas Airways Corporation and British European Airways have lights and whistles. These lines’ planes also carry inflatable cots for infants 2 years old and under.
In Widespread Use
Air France is another foreign line with lights on vests. Presumably most other foreign lines also have them since they have not demurred from the ICAO recommendation.
A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Agency explained the agency’s disinclination to require life-vest lights in this way:
When the ICAC recommendation was made, Government officials felt there was no light available that met what were considered minimum requirements.
The spokesman said that if a light was available, the recommendation would have been considered more seriously.
[Editor’s note: Life vest lights were only one of several recommendations to come out of the ditching of Flying Tiger 923. Perhaps the most important recommendation was that of providing “reversible” life rafts with lights on both the top and bottom in the event of a flip as was the case with Flight 923, and that emergency kits be accessible from both top and bottom.]