Imagine being trapped in your own car with the water rising outside the windows. An air pocket provides only seconds for a life-and-death decision: How are you going to get out alive?
So many people have drowned in their own cars
The state of Texas even came up with a safety slogan: Turn around, don’t drown.
“I have felt the panic myself,” 11Alive's Brendan Keefe said.
Two decades ago, while reporting for a television station in Texas, Keefe demonstrated how to escape a sinking car.
“I have to try to get the window down before the water starts filling the car,” Keefe said on the 1990s video.
The water was rushing into the car.
“Even with a rescue driver in the back seat and a SCUBA tank on the seat next to me, I panicked,” Keefe said.
It’s not about too much water, but not enough water inside the vehicle that creates a pressure differential, sealing the door shut.
And it doesn’t take a lot of water. Even a few inches over the outside of the car -- but not inside -- makes it virtually impossible to open the door, because of that pressure differential. As the water level increases, you’re trapped.
The only way out? Break the glass.
'Lost on the Line' series inspires an invention
Milton inventor Jim Alexander helped create the “OWL” after seeing 11Alive's original 9-1-1 investigation, "Lost on the Line." OWL stands for “Open Window for Life.” The credit card-sized invention shatters the glass in a snap.
Pull back, and release -- That simple.
PHOTOS | OWL: Open Window for Life
It was derived out of tragedy. Shannell Anderson, was delivering papers at 4:00 in the morning when she drove into a pond.
“I’m in a car in a lake!” she shouted to 911 operators while they struggled to find her exact location. A fire and rescue team did the best they could, but they couldn’t get to her in time.
Turns out, Shannell could have been holding the answer in her hand.
The “OWL” card can be slid into a case on the back of someone's cell phone. If she had it on the back of her cell phone or on the visor of her car, she could have called 911, taken the card, broken the window, gotten out and be waiting for the EMT rescue personnel, Alexander explained.
Car windows are not easy to break. Even a tire iron bounces right off the glass. Instead, the OWL uses a carbide tip and the resonant frequency of the window itself. A user's strength is irrelevant.
“It’s only two fingers you have to lift on this card. Half a pound of pull pressure, about a half an inch back,” Alexander said. “You pull it up – it holds it for you – and you release and the window breaks.”
“All the energy, within a fraction of a second, goes from the point of where it breaks to the corner, back to the card,” Alexander described. “It’s almost like lightning.”
The OWL card also has a recessed razor blade for cutting the seatbelt – which often locks tight after an impact.
“You insert it, you cut down,” Alexander said while demonstrating how it cuts through seat belts. “It cuts just like paper.”
The OWL is patent pending. Once approved, it will be the fifth patent to result directly from 11Alive's 911 investigation.
Shannell Anderson could not save herself, but she will likely save hundreds, if not thousands of other people, because of the inventions inspired by her tragic death.
LOST ON THE LINE: An 11Alive Investigation