How to Survive a Plane Crash

Traveling by plane is incredibly safe – your chances of dying on a commercial flight are roughly one in 11 million, but accidents still happen and travelers occasionally make their way to another final destination. However, many of the past deaths were avoidable. Here is the safety information you need to know if you fall.

Before we dive into this, you should know that no two accidents are the same, and incidents can be very different. There is no consistent way to avoid a plane crash or methods to guarantee survival. For example, an airplane that dives nose-dive into the ground before turning into a fireball is not a survivable incident, no matter what you do. However, most accidents are not like that. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, even if there is an incident with your flight, there is a 95% chance of survival . As John Hansman, director of the International Air Transport Center, puts it , “Riding a commercial plane got about as much of a risk as riding an escalator.”

Sit in the back of the plane

Place, place, location. The choice of seating position can greatly affect your chances of surviving a plane crash, depending on the incident. A few years ago, TIME magazine looked at the FAA’s accident statistics and seating charts for 35-year trends. Here’s what they found :

  • The fatality rate for seats in the rear third of the aircraft was 32%.
  • Seats in the middle third had a mortality rate of 39%.
  • On seats in the front third, the mortality rate was 38%.

This suggests that the safest part of the plane to sit is in the rear third of the plane. Basic economics, baby. Moreover, the middle seats in this rear third of the aircraft had the lowest fatality rate of any seat at 28%. Hope you enjoy sharing the armrests. The highest mortality rates were in the aisle seats in the middle third of the passenger compartment (44%). In 2007, Popular Mechanics conducted a similar study with similar results. Their analysis shows that passengers sitting behind an airplane’s wing are 40% more likely to survive than passengers sitting in the front of the plane.

However, the numbers as to whether you should sit by the aisle, in the middle, or by the window don’t quite agree. A separate study from the University of Greenwich found that aisle seats actually offer a slightly higher chance of survival , so to be honest, that’s a bit of nonsense in that regard. Of course, as I said earlier, it all depends on the incident itself. There are many examples, such as United Airlines Flight 232 , where the front of the plane was safer, just fewer. Wherever you sit, just make it a seat on a big plane. Larger commercial aircraft have more backup systems , have less crash rates, and can absorb more force on impact.

Remember the “Rule of Five Lines”

Most fatalities occur when passengers are unable to get off the plane in time after an emergency landing. To be able to get out on time, always consider what Professor Ed Galea of ​​the University of Greenwich calls the “five-row rule.” After examining 105 plane crashes and interviewing more than 2,000 surviving passengers and crew, Galea found that survivors moved an average of five rows before escaping safely.

Always select a seat within five rows of an emergency exit. If you can, take a seat near or one row away from the exit. Galea says sitting more than five rows from the exit means “the chances of dying far outweigh the chances of survival.” Of course, this is not a guarantee, but the logic is correct. The further you fly inside a burning plane, the less chance you have to get out of it. No matter where you sit, Sherrill Schwartz, a retired United Airlines flight attendant, strongly recommends counting how many aisles you are from the nearest emergency exit, no matter how familiar you are with the plane. Please check again if necessary. That way, if the cockpit fills up with smoke and your visibility deteriorates, you can still get out.

Dress appropriately

As I mentioned earlier, the collision itself is not the cause of the majority of fatalities in plane crashes. According to a report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the FAA , 68% of passengers in plane crashes die from plane crash fires – either from burns or inhalation of smoke. The European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) drew similar conclusions . They estimate that 90% of aircraft accidents are survivable, and that at least 40% of those killed in past accidents did survive. Most of these cases are related to fires.

To limit the time you are aboard a burning plane and avoid serious burns, Cynthia Corbett, human factors specialist at the FAA’s Civil Aerospace Medical Institute, recommends dressing as if you need to get away from a burning plane :

“If you have to do this, how well will your flip flops perform? How well will your high-heeled shoes fit? As you glide across this fabric slide from an airplane, will the tights hold up? Shorts, skirts and high-heeled shoes are not our best flight clothes because it is difficult to run in such shoes and escape when you are not dressed properly. We love to see you won’t run out of drawstring shoes and long pants. Jeans are good. I know that in the summer it is really difficult, but short shorts in this case are just dangerous … “

It’s also a good idea to have a long-sleeved T-shirt or jacket. Make sure your clothes are 100% cotton or wool so they won’t melt. Don’t wear synthetic fabrics. Sorry, I know they are comfortable. And a handkerchief will not hurt to put in your jacket pocket in case you need to cover your face with something. You can moisten it with the water they distribute and create a temporary breathing mask.

Listen to the flight attendants and read the safety card

I know it’s a nuisance and you’ve heard it a billion times, but it’s nice to hear the flight attendants speak before take off. I understand that you know how to put on a seat belt – I mean, you know how to read this right now, so you must have the intelligence you need to understand the basic mechanisms of a seat belt – but flight attendants still provide you with valuable information. They will show you where the exits are, demonstrate how to use life jackets and oxygen masks (which you definitely need to know how to do quickly), and the safety card will show you the escape routes you should definitely know about.

But you know all this, right? You have flown so many times that you can repeat everything by heart! I doubt. Frequent flyers were the least informed and most complacent of all passengers, according to an FAA report . Listen to the talk or video, look at the safety card, and make a plan for yourself and your loved ones so you can take action the moment something happens. You won’t have time to make a plan later.

Follow the plus three, minus eight rule

It is true that most aircraft accidents occur during takeoff or landing, and there is a time window when these incidents occur most often: somewhere within three minutes after takeoff; and about eight minutes before landing. At the Survivor’s Club , author Ben Sherwood explains that 80% of all plane crashes actually happened during this time.

To increase your chances of surviving one of these incidents, you should be vigilant during this time . This means that you cannot sleep, listen to music, take off your shoes, be carelessly drunk or take drugs, or not unfasten your seat belt during this window. Stay informed and ready to follow through on your action plan.

Know how to prepare for a strike

So this is happening; you fall and the flight crew has warned you to be ready to strike. What are you doing? If you have time, Corbett suggests removing sharp objects (such as pens, pencils, and keys) from your pockets and placing your carry-on luggage under the seat in front of you . This keeps the area clear for you and other passengers to pass through after the impact, but it also provides leg support and prevents them from passing under the seat in front of you. You will reduce the likelihood of breaking your legs and interfering with your escape.

Once you’ve prepared, it’s time to take a position. Fasten your seat belt first. Then, how you hold up depends on where you sit:

  • If you have a seat in front of you : Cross your arms on the seat in front and rest your forehead on your palms. This will help reduce whiplash and head injuries.
  • If you don’t have a seat in front of you: Bend as far as possible, bring your legs around your knees, and keep your head down until you feel the plane stop. Place your hands on the back of your head with your dominant hand.

If you are unsure of your seat, check your safety card before take off. It will contain instructions that you need to know for your specific aircraft. And make sure your seat belt is fastened tightly. The tighter your seat belt is taut, the more force your body will experience when struck.

Get ready for a super-fast escape from the plane

Okay, you have survived a crash landing and people are screaming and hustling. Don’t sit in a daze. Schwartz says there is a phenomenon where people sit and wonder they survived an accident and then wait for help:

“You can survive most accidents. However, in case of accidents that could have been survived, investigators at the crash site find dead passengers without a scratch, who are still wearing their seat belts. ”

Get out! Fire and smoke are almost certainly approaching. As Sherwood explains in The Survivors’ Club , you have about 90 seconds to get out of the cockpit before the fire burns through the aircraft’s aluminum fuselage and reaches you. Ideally, you are wearing the right shoes, clothes that won’t melt on your skin, and you wet a handkerchief before hitting so you can breathe. Now you need to follow the assigned escape route. If you sit near the exit as planned, that’s fine. If not, I hope you went to the gym. The FAA notes that healthy young people tend to come out alive more often than older people with heavier physiques (evacuation times can vary by up to 31%).

Why? You need to move quickly, slide down narrow aisles, clear up debris and luggage scattered around, and you may need to physically clear obstructions. Climbing up on the seat to get to the exit is not ideal as it can create more congestion at the exits, but if that’s your only option, take it. After leaving the house, get away from the wreckage as quickly as possible. You don’t want to survive on impact, then you manage to escape, only to be killed by a shrapnel when the plane decides to explode. Now take a deep breath and thank your lucky ones for knowing what to do.


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