Ashley Parham died in 2009 after her airbag exploded in her Honda Accord.
Ashley Parham died in 2009 after her airbag exploded in her Honda Accord.

Airbag death so horrific ‘we thought she’d been shot’

IF YOU want a reason to return your car as part of the massive 2.3 million vehicle recall, look no further than 18-year-old student Ashley Parham.

She wasn't even driving fast when she died in 2009, just days after her high school graduation.

Ms Parham is likely the first victim of the deadly malfunctioning airbags made by Japanese manufacturer Takata.

A former student, community volunteer and cheerleader at an Oklahoma high school, Ms Parham was on her way to pick up her brother from football practice on May 27 of that year in her 2001 Honda Accord. She was wearing a seatbelt and wasn't speeding as she drove around the car park looking for a space, according to local TV station News 9.

She bumped another car, a relatively minor prang, but nonetheless the airbag in the steering wheel inflated. As it did so, it threw metal pieces at such tremendous force towards Ms Parham that one hit the teen's neck slicing open her carotid artery. She bled to death in her seat.

Ashley Parham died in 2009 after her airbag exploded in her Honda Accord.
Ashley Parham died in 2009 after her airbag exploded in her Honda Accord.

Local Police Chief Brandon Clabes told Reuters her injuries were so catastrophic that doctors who treated Ms Parham initially "thought she might have been shot", .

Mr Clabes said the car park ding "was just a minor traffic accident ... that most people just walk away from with no injuries at all."

In the nine years since, a further 22 people have died and 230 have been injured in incidents linked to the Takata airbags. When Ms Parham died, affected Hondas were already being recalled but her model would only be added to the list following her death.

A deployed airbag seen in a 2001 Honda Accord. Picture: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
A deployed airbag seen in a 2001 Honda Accord. Picture: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Federal Government has announced a recall of millions of cars fitted with the airbags, including those made by Ford, Holden and Volkswagen, who will be forced to replace the bags free of charge.

IS YOUR CAR ON THE LIST? All the cars being recalled

Worryingly, Australias's humid climate could be the perfect environment to lead to the deadly airbag explosions.

It's also humid down in Florida where, in September 2014, Hien Tran was driving home from her family's nail salon in Orlando.

Like Ms Parham, she had a relatively minor crash in a Honda Accord. But when paramedics arrived they couldn't understand the scene before them. She had suffered a slash through her jugular vein.

"Deep cuts on the right side of her neck were not consistent with crash injuries," a report from the paramedics stated.

Hien Tran from Orlando died in an airbag incident in 2014.
Hien Tran from Orlando died in an airbag incident in 2014.

"There were no windows broken ... that would cause sharp glass to penetrate a human's body. Therefore, the force of the crash was not significant enough to cause great bodily harm to any occupant in both vehicles."

It looked like Ms Tran had been stabbed, reported the New York Times. Initially, police looked into why someone might murder the Vietnamese immigrant, who never regained consciousness and later died.

It was only when, a week later, a letter from Honda came through the post asking Ms Tran to get her car's airbags fixed that police realised that was the cause.

In July 2017, the list of Takata tragedies, which had hit the US and Malaysia, finally hit Australian shores.

An unidentified 58-year-old Sydney man crashed his Honda CR-V into a Toyota Celica at Cabramatta in the city's south west. The airbag deployed but in the process of cushioning his head it also sent a small piece of debris into his neck. He died at the scene.

A police investigation found that his death was "likely due to a fault in the airbag."

A 2017 voluntary recall of Australian cars fitted with airbag was a damp squib with a million potentially deadly vehicles still on the road.

In 2015, US Senator Bill Nelson points to the injury on a victim who was hit by shrapnel when a car's Takata airbag inflated. Picture: AP Photo/Susan Walsh
In 2015, US Senator Bill Nelson points to the injury on a victim who was hit by shrapnel when a car's Takata airbag inflated. Picture: AP Photo/Susan Walsh

"The previous voluntary recall has not been satisfactory overall and it's the safety of all Australians which is the first priority of this government," Assistant Minister to the Treasurer Michael Sukkar said on Wednesday.

The Government said 25 car types were affected from state of the art Teslas to luxury BMWs and runabout Skodas.

Takata, the company behind the airbags, started off as a seat belt manufacturer before moving into the bags in the 1980s. It then started work on manufacturing the intricate and high explosive devices that inflated the bags within a thousandth of a second, should there be a crash.

According to Honda, and reported by Reuters, there were question marks about quality control at Takata and how it was storing chemicals used in the airbags as far back as 2002. An "unusual airbag deployment" occurred in 2004, the car maker said.

A Takata airbag inflates after it was removed during a US recall in May 2015. Picture: EPA/Jeff Kowalsky
A Takata airbag inflates after it was removed during a US recall in May 2015. Picture: EPA/Jeff Kowalsky

In 2016, following many deaths, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said they had solved the mystery of why Takata's airbags were exploding with such brutal force following relatively minor bumps.

Long term exposure to moisture and temperature fluctuations could degrade the chemical propellant used to deploy the airbags.

The propellant in Takata devices was made from ammonium nitrate, a volatile explosive often used in mining. Another agent could stabilise the propellant but this was not fitted to their airbag systems.

Those without the added chemical were prone to inflate with such force that a metal canister in the device could be shredded, scooped up and ejected in the process. Those injured have reported fragments in the neck, chest and eyes.

The older the car, and therefore the bag, the worse the problem.

Manufacturer Takata Corp filed for bankruptcy in 2017. Picture: The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images
Manufacturer Takata Corp filed for bankruptcy in 2017. Picture: The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images

Drivers in humid climates, places such as Florida, Malaysia and Australia where deaths have occurred, were most at risk. The agency prioritised recalls in the hot and humid southern US states.

With the massive recalls in the US and Australia, it is expected some 125 million cars will eventually have to be ordered back to their manufactures to have their airbags tested.

Once a darling of the Japanese motor industry, Takata is now on its uppers. In June last year, it filed for bankruptcy, the biggest in the country's history, as it struggled in the face of tens of billions of dollars in costs and liabilities resulting from the airbags.

The memory of Ms Parham, the first victim of an airbag recall that has now swept the globe, lives on in an educational foundation set up in her name.

A page of obituaries to Ms Parham is still open almost a decade after her death. One more recent entry simply reads: "I miss u sis."


 

Manufacturer Takata Corp filed for bankruptcy in 2017. Picture: The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images
Manufacturer Takata Corp filed for bankruptcy in 2017. Picture: The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images

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