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Would easy-to-don life vests and a faster water rescue operation have saved more lives when an airliner crashed into the Potomac River last week?

No one really knows yet. But even as the the causes of that crash are probed, unsolicited suggestions on how to avert other disasters are pouring in to the Federal Aviation Administration. Among them: that aircraft operating at airports near water carry life vests in a transparent tube on seat backs in front of passengers and that airports have water-rescue equipment able to get to nearby crash sites within 10 minutes.

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The proposals, first made by the Air Line Pilots Association a year ago, are backed by Ralph Nader's Aviation Consumer Action Project. They have widespread support from flight personnel and safety experts.

The Air Transport Association, representing the industry, has opposed these proposals in the past, citing an estimated $40 million in initial costs.m

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