Elin Nordegren, the wife of golf legend Tiger Woods, claims she broke the rear window of his Escalade with a golf club on Friday morning to extricate her husband from the smashed up vehicle. But rumors continue to swirl that she shattered the window in a rage over her husband’s alleged infidelity and that her actions caused the crash. If Woods really was stuck in the car, would breaking him out with a golf club have been a smart move?
No. You should try to drag an accident victim from his vehicle only if his life is in immediate danger. Otherwise, you risk aggravating cervical spine injuries. So long as the Escalade wasn’t on fire and Woods appeared to be breathing, the best course of action would have been to call 911 and stand watch at the scene. Nordegren should have extricated Woods only if she had to resuscitate him, and recently released 911 transcripts do not indicate that CPR was performed.
If an accident victim is slumped over the wheel and having trouble breathing, the first step is to try all the doors. If that doesn’t work, go ghetto on the windows. (One window is usually sufficient.) Don’t try the windshield, though; it won’t break—a sheet of resin holds the glass together when it shatters. The side windows can be broken with any stiff object. While the tempered glass of the side windows breaks into relatively smooth shards, these can still cut the rescuer and the victim. First responders use a spring-loaded nail to smash in the corner of the window and then pull as much of the broken glass as they can out of the car. (Some place duct tape over the window and hold on to one flap then pull out most of the window in one piece after it shatters.)
Once you’ve accessed the vehicle, see if you can help restore the victim’s airway by simply re-aligning his spine and head. It’s better not to risk further injury by dragging his vulnerable body out through the broken glass. If that doesn’t work, try the doors again from the inside. You’ll probably need a hand if you have to bring the victim out through the window. Pulling a limp body—particularly a 6-foot-1, 185-pound professional athlete—out of the driver’s seat and through a window is a herculean task. The seat back will prevent you from getting a good grip, and the steering wheel keeps the victim’s legs from coming out smoothly. Most rescue crews need two or three trained experts to pull a man out of a car. Try to move the head and neck as little as possible.
Throughout this process, there are a few risks you should keep in mind. Newer cars are equipped with a variety of airbags, which on rare occasion have deployed unexpectedly and injured rescuers. (Trained rescue crews disable the car battery to prevent this.) Also, while car fires are rare occurrences, they sometimes ignite well after the accident if fuel leaks on to broken wires in the engine. Don’t panic. The car will not explode, and you usually have a few minutes to get yourself and the victim out.
Bonus Explainer: Which type of golf club works best for breaking windows? The 1-iron, if you’re carrying one. You want the longest club you can get, to help you generate head speed. An iron is better than a wood, because its sole—the part of the club that sits on the ground—is narrower and thus generates more pressure at the point of impact.
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Explainer thanks Bill Glanz of the International Association of Firefighters, Kelly Grayson, author of En Route: A Paramedic’s Stories of Life, Death, and Everything in Between, Jerry Johnston of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, Larry Manasco of Firehouse magazine, William Raynovich of Creighton University, and Paul Werfel of Stony Brook University.
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