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 of water 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.

A credit card-sized invention shatters the glass in a snap.

Pull back — and release!

That simple.

PHOTOS | OWL: Open Window for Life

Jim Alexander invented the “OWL” after seeing our original 9-1-1 investigation. “OWL” stands for “Open Window for Life.”

“I’m in a car in a lake!”

“It derived out of tragedy, just four miles from our house. Shannell Anderson, 4:00 in the morning, delivering papers. She drove into a pond.”

“The fire and rescue team – they did the best they possibly could, and they couldn’t get to her in time. Shannell was holding the answer in her hand,” Keefe said, holding up a card marked “OWL” that he slid into a case on the back of his 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.”

“And it’s only two fingers you have to lift on this card. Half a pound 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.”

Car windows are not easy to break.

Even a tire iron bounces right off the glass.

The OWL uses a carbide tip and the resonant frequency of the window itself. Your strength is irrelevant.

“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 said. “It’s almost like lightning.”

It 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 inventors are from Milton, and the OWL is patent pending. Once approved, it will be the fifth patent to result directly from our 9-1-1 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

► Why 911 is broken
► Why 911 is still broken
► 2 years after tragic 911 death, what’s changed?
► Lost on the line: Local communities rolling out tech that helps 911 find you

© 2017 WXIA

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