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5 Deadly Fumes Inhaled During Aircraft Fires

The flames of a fire aren't usually the greatest threat to your life during an aircraft fire. The burning combination of fuel, hydraulic fluids, coolants, lubricants, plastics, and countless other aircraft components can incapacitate you in a matter of seconds. Of survivable air transport crashes, 80% of fatalities result from inhalation of toxic gases, rather than thermal injury.

Here are a few...

1) Carbon Monoxide

An odorless and tasteless gas, carbon monoxide is produced by the incomplete combustion of carbon-containing fuels. It impairs your body's red blood cells from transporting oxygen.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can result in hypemic hypoxia, with the same subtle, deadly symptoms.

2) Cyanide

Cyanide gas is released by the burning of plastics, which you'll find all over your airplane. It stops your heart due to histotoxic hypoxia. Shockingly, death occurs at just 3.3 to 5 micrograms of exposure.


3) Hydrochloric And Sulfuric Acid

Hydrochloric acid in smoke is produced when polyvinylchloride (PVC) burns. PVC was commonly used around aircraft wiring until specifications were specifically changed to avoid the smoke risks from PVC. You might still find PVC in components of older aircraft or with passengers inside the cabin.

Any kind of acid within smoke is extremely harmful to open sores and wet tissues. Your eyes, mouth, and lungs are most susceptible, with debilitating burning sensations destroying your ability to function normally.


4) Styrene

While it won't kill you, styrene gas from burning styrofoam can incapacitate you. Most of the time, you'll still be conscious, but unable to function.


5) Phosphorous Esters

Flame retardants that coat aircraft components and equipment can release highly toxic phosphorus esters when burned hot enough.


All of this sounds like pretty nasty stuff, right? Those were just a few of the common deadly fumes you'll find! Toxins within the smoke of aircraft fires lead to dozens of deaths every year. Fortunately, there are some precautions that you can take.

Smoke hoods, face-fitted oxygen masks (that cover the eyes), and EVAS systems can protect pilots from the toxins found in smoke. These systems allow pilots to keep their eyes open in dense smoke to continue flying the airplane when it'd otherwise be impossible.

Don't delay the decision to put on your oxygen mask or other protective gear. Just a few seconds of exposure to toxic fumes can incapacitate you, leaving your eyes burning with severe throat and lung pain.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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