What to Do if You're Trapped in a Sinking Vehicle

Family that survived Newport Harbor ordeal made all the right moves

By Vikki Vargas and Bill French
|  Friday, Jan 13, 2012  |  Updated 9:02 PM PDT
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A family of four on vacation from Taiwan found themselves sinking in their rental minivan after being pushed off the Balboa Ferry. What would you do?

Vikki Vargas and Kevin Dahlgren

A family of four on vacation from Taiwan found themselves sinking in their rental minivan after being pushed off the Balboa Ferry. What would you do?

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The way police describe it, the minivan that plunged into Newport Harbor Friday morning was rear-ended by a second vehicle. The driver of that car, who will not be charged with any crime, said her accelerator was stuck.

Related: Family Rescued After Minivan Knocked Off Ferry

It was a chaotic scene. While the minivan was sinking, and the family of four inside was escaping, the Mercedes was also close to dropping off the ferry.

"We were yelling get out of the car, get out of the car," said witness Lori Williams. "The car was parallel and starting to go nose down into the water. And she literally climbed out  the window on to the boat on the far side of here and within 30 or 40 seconds the car just absolutely sunk and went to the bottom of the bay ."

By that time, the tourists from Taiwan who were inside the minivan had made it to dry land. Their rental car was another story.

The car was upside down in 15 feet of water. Harbor Patrol deputies say, if the family members had stayed inside much longer, they wouldn't have made it out alive.

"That car floated for about four or five minutes," said Deputy William Nelson of the Orange County Sheriff's Dept. "The Good Samaritans that were able to get out to them, rescued them without them even getting wet."

Authorities say the deeper the water, the greater the pressure against the doors and windows. They suggest carrying a glass-breaking device that can also cut through seat belts.

And above all, they say, don't panic. The family from Taiwan did that very well.

"Roll your windows down immediately," said Deputy Nelson. "That will allow, if the water does start to come in, to equalize the pressure between the inside of the vehicle with the outside, allowing you to open the doors."

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