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The ultimate sales pitch for air bags: Tornado chasers survive tornado throwing them 200 yards in GMC Yukon

Saturday, June 15, 2013 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: air bags, storm chasers, tornado

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(NaturalNews) I may be dating myself, but I remember when automobile air bags were first being considered (and debated) decades ago. Back then critics who argued against requiring automakers to install them on vehicles cited cost as a concern (how much air bags would raise the price of a car or truck) as well as potential health hazards from spillage of chemicals within the bags that caused them to inflate so quickly upon impact, and how they presented an elevated risk of death for children.

But a recent story serves as a dramatic example of how the technology can save lives, even in the most extreme cases.

As many readers know it is tornado season once again and nowhere have recent storms struck with more fury than in the southwestern portion of the Midwest. Scores of homes have been destroyed, dozens have lost their lives and the overall damage has been in the hundreds of millions.

Naturally, storm season spawns storm chasing and storm reporting. And no one reports storms more completely than, of course, The Weather Channel.

Thrown high into the air

One of its "hunt teams" was tracking a tornado near Oklahoma City June 1 when suddenly the twister shifted. Per TWC:

The Weather Channel Tornado Hunt Team is safe, but shaken up after their chase vehicles took a direct hit by a violent tornado west of Oklahoma City.

Meteorologist Mike Bettes was chasing the monster rain-wrapped tornado near El Reno, Okla. when he says the storm picked up the heavy chase SUV and threw it an estimated 200 yards.

"We were ahead of the storm. We stopped to broadcast and I saw a large violent wedge tornado," he said in a live phone interview after he established phone connection following the incident.

"What we were trying to do was just get away from it and get to the south side of it," he said. "But what ended up happening was all three of our vehicles that we chase with were all hit by it."

The next thing he recalled was being thrown high into the air.

"It was like we were floating. We were tumbling. We were airborne at least one point and we were floating. Then we weren't tumbling anymore and we came down hard," he said.

When it was over, Bettes and the vehicle's other occupants were banged up and bruised - Bettes required some stitches in his hand - and their vehicle was destroyed. But they were all very much alive.

"My life flashed before my eyes," he said, quoting a popular near-death experience phrase.

TWC said the incident marked the first time that one of its network personalities had been hurt while covering extreme weather.

Abrasions heal

As for the vehicle, air bags no doubt played a big role in saving the crew's lives and the lives of others; Bettes said he saw other vehicles tossed into the air by the storm.

Successive studies have shown that air bags are lifesavers.

"Driver deaths in side-impact collisions dropped by more than half in sport utility vehicles equipped with head-protecting side air bags, insurance industry research shows," Insurance Journal reported in October 2006. "Side air bags offering head protection could save the lives of about 2,000 drivers a year if every vehicle on the road had the equipment, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimated in a study..."

"Air bags with properly worn seatbelts are more effective than safety belts alone for reducing overall risk of fatalities and injuries," adds Walters Forensic Engineering in a report.

"Even in a crash of moderate severity, relative minor injuries can occur, such as abrasion from contact with the deploying airbag (airbag fabric abrasion on the skin)," the firm says, but bruises and abrasions heal.

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