MadSci Network: Medicine

Re: What happens to the lungs if the cabin catches fire in a jet?

Date: Sun Oct 11 08:46:03 1998
Posted By: Samuel Conway, Senior Scientist, Message Pharmaceuticals, Aston, PA
Area of science: Medicine
ID: 905881976.Me

Determing if victims were alive before or after a plane crash is one of
the more poignant tasks of a medical examiner.

If a person is alive and breathing while the cabin fills with smoke, 
his lungs will have deposits of soot on their walls.  You see the same
effect with fire victims who have suffered smoke inhalation:  two large
smears of soot under the nostrils.

If the lungs are found not to contain soot, then it can be concluded that
the victim was not breathing when the smoke filled the cabin.

I recommend rubbing some decolorizing carbon on one side of some of the
pieces of ginger to simulate such soot deposits.

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