It’s every air traveler’s nightmare. Sudden turbulence throws you backward. The beverage cart flies by and crashes into the rear of the cabin. You’re losing altitude quickly, and your seatbelt is jammed between the seats. Oxygen masks drop from above, but you didn’t pay attention to preflight instructions. People scream, pray and clutch each other as the plane descends downward at an improbable angle. You think you’re going to die. The good news is that an airplane crash doesn’t necessarily mean certain death. In fact, of the 568 U.S. plane crashes between 1980 and 2000, more than 90 percent of crash victims survived [source: BBC]. In the event of an air disaster, there are things you can do that can increase your odds of living. Keeping a calm, cool head amidst panic and disorder isn’t easy, but key to your chances. So are the clothes you wear, the luggage you bring and where you stow it. Some research even indicates that the seat you choose might help. ­In this article, we’ll fill you in on how you can best increase your odds of surviving a plane crash. We’ll also learn a few common myths about crashes and reveal some harrowing true stories of survival. Survival Tips and Crash Myths The most common question asked of crash experts is «Is there a safest seat?» Official sources say that it makes no difference because no two plane crashes are alike. Popular Mechanics magazine did some exhaustive research that seems to point to the rear of the plane as the safest spot. They studied data of every U.S. commercial jet crash in the last 36 years and found that passengers in the rear of the plane are 40 percent more likely to survive than those in the first few rows [source: Popular Mechanics]. The Federal Aviation Administration’s position is that there is no safest seat. The FAA also concluded in a 2005 report that there’s no evidence that any one carrier is any safer than the next [source: FAA]. In the event of a crash, there are things you can do to give you a better shot at making it out alive. Following are five tips that everyone should know before they get on their next flight:

  • After you board, find the two closest exits and count the rows between them and your seat. In the event of darkness or smoke, feel the seats and count until you reach the exit row.
  • Ready for the impact. The official FAA crash position is to extend your arms, cross your hands and place them on the seat in front of you, and then place your head against the back of your hands. Tuck your feet under your seat as far as you can. If you have no seat in front of you, bend your upper body over with your head down and wrap your arms behind your knees. Always stow your carry-on bag under the seat in front of you to block the area.
  • Wear long pants, sleeves and closed-toed shoes. This will help protect you from glass, metal and the elements.
  • If you’re with your family, talk to your children about what to do in the event of an emergency. Divide the responsibility of helping your children between you and your spouse. It’s easier for one parent to help a single child than for both to try to keep everyone together.
  • Pay atte­ntion to the preflight instructions, as all planes are different. When the oxygen mask drops, put it on yourself first before attempting to help someone else. If you fall unconscious, you have no chance of helping your travel mate.­­­

In the next section, we’ll look at some more tips as well as some common mistakes passengers make. Mistakes and More Tips Many people who perish in plane crashes could have avoided it if they had not made some fatal errors. The biggest enemy in a crash scenario is panic. Keeping your wits and maintaining focus will do more to save you than anything else. Panic is the reason that many passengers find themselves unable to do something as simple as releasing their seatbelt. The most frequent use of a safety belt is in your car, with a push-button release. In the heat if the moment, remembering that the plane’s belt has a pull-release isn’t second nature. For this reason, many crash victims are found still strapped into their seats. ­Here are a few more tips you should remember if your plane is going down:­

  • ­In the event of fire, stay as low as you can and get out as quickly as possible. The smoke and fumes from a burning plane are highly toxic and more likely to kill you than the flames.
  • The airline industry refers to the first 90 seconds of a plane crash as «golden time.» If you’re able to stay calm and move fast within this time frame, you have a good chance at getting out of the plane.
  • If you make it out of the plane in one piece, get as far away as possible as quickly as you can and tuck behind something large in case of an explosion.
  • Think before you drink. Consuming alcohol will slow your response time and cloud your decision-making.
  • No matter what you believe can’t be replaced, never attempt to take your carry-on luggage with you during an emergency exit.
  • Don’t inflate your life vest until you’re outside the cabin. It will restrict your movement.­

­If you’d like to read more about surviving dire circumstances, please look into the links on the following page. Lots More Information

Author’s Note: How to Survive a Plane Crash

I have a lot of issues with air travel, but none of them involve dying in a plane crash. I’m one of the people who takes solace in the fact that you’re much more likely to die in a car than in a passenger jet. But there are other people who have a very real, sometimes debilitating, fear of flying. When writing this article, I had those people in mind. Maybe learning some facts about plane crashes and how you could increase your chances of survival could help ease a few fears. For instance, while officials won’t go on record for saying one seat is any safer than the next, research shows that sitting in the rear of the plane gives you a 40 percent higher chance of surviving a plane crash than sitting with those lucky folks in first class. Remember that next time you’re stuck beside the rear lavatory.

Plane Crash Survival: Cheat Sheet

  • Once on board, note the two closest exits and count the rows from your seat. In the smoky darkness you can feel the seats and count until you reach the exit row.
  • You may want to wear your PJs and slippers, but if you were smart you’d wear long pants, sleeves and close-toed shoes. Also, wear cotton. In the event of a crash, you’ll be well protected and your clothes won’t melt.
  • It’s hard to believe, but roughly 90 percent of passengers in plane crashes between 1980 and 2000 lived to tell about it.

Sources

  • «Mercedes Johnson — A Survivor’s Story.» BBC. 2008. http://www.bbc.co.uk/sn/tvradio/programmes/horizon/broadband/tx/ survivorsguide/survivor_story/
  • «Safest Seat on a Plane: PM Investigates How to Survive a Crash.» Popular Mechanics. July 18, 2007. http://www.popula rmechanics.com/science/air_space/4219452.html
  • «Safety Record of Airlines/Aircraft.» Federal Aviation Administration. 2005. http://www.faa.gov/passengers/fly_safe/safety_record/
  • Colin, Chris. «Crash Therapy.» Salon.com. 1999. http://www.salon.com/travel/log/1999/08/25/crash/
  • Daley, Jason. «I Will Survive.» Outside Online. September 2004. http://outside.away.com/outside/features/200409/ top_survival_stories_4.html
  • Harrison, Milla. «How to Survive a Plane Crash.» BBC Horizon. Oct. 3, 2006. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/5402342.stm
  • Hitti, Miranda. «How to Survive a Plane Crash.» Webmd.com. 2008. http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/features/how-to-survive-plane-crash
  • Muir, David. «How to Survive a Plane Crash.» ABC News. Aug. 3, 2005. http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/Story?id=1005714&page=1
  • The Andes Accident. Viven.com. 2008. http://www.viven.com.uy/571/eng/default.asp

With our archives now 3,500+ articles deep, we’ve decided to republish a classic piece each Sunday to help our newer readers discover some of the best, evergreen gems from the past. This article was originally published in July 2013. We often think that plane crashes are catastrophic and unsurvivable events. Thanks to movies and 24/7 news channels, the enduring image of a plane crash usually involves an aircraft plummeting to the ground from 30,000 feet and obliterating everyone on board in a terrifying fireball. Thankfully, that isn’t the case. In a report analyzing airline accidents from 1983 to 2000, the National Transportation Safety Board found that the survival rate of crashes was 95.7%. Sure, there are some accidents where everyone, or nearly everyone, died, but those are much rarer than you’d guess based on what you see in the news. The NTSB found that even in serious accidents where fire and substantial damage occurred, 76.6% of passengers still survived. Combine those stats with the relative rarity of airplane accidents even happening in the first place (the average American’s chances of being killed in an airplane crash are about 1 in 11 million), and you can see that flying is actually the safest form of transportation there is. Taking to the road on an average day is far more dangerous — it just doesn’t feel like it because you have four (or two) wheels on the ground and a sense of control. But it’s important to take note of another interesting tidbit that the FAA and NTSB found in their research on plane crashes: 40% of fatalities that did occur happened in crashes that were survivable. Close to half of all airplane crash fatalities might have been prevented had passengers taken proper action. While the odds of being involved in a plane crash may be slim, they’re not zero. If it happened to you, would you know what to do to increase your chances of walking away? In today’s article we’re going to offer research-backed advice from Ben Sherwood’s The Survivor’s Club on what you can do to make it out of a plane crash alive.

You’ve Only Got 90 Seconds to Get Out

Understanding this is the key ingredient to surviving, and will frame all the other tips in this article. If you’ve survived the crash landing, you have a pretty good chance of getting out of the airplane alive. But, you only have 90 seconds to do so. You see, the thing that kills most passengers in a plane crash isn’t the actual impact, it’s the fire that typically engulfs the plane afterwards. Folks may be surprised they survived the impact, and become complacent about other dangers. People vastly underestimate how quickly a fire can spread and consume an airplane. Surveys show that most people think they actually have about 30 minutes to get out of a burning plane. The reality is that it takes, on average, just 90 seconds for a fire to burn through the plane’s aluminum fuselage and consume everything and everyone in it. If that sounds scary, it should; you need to be motivated to get your rear end out of the plane!

Be Fit

The FAA has rigorously studied and crunched the numbers on airplane crash survivors, as well as tested nearly 2,500 people in simulated evacuations to find out the type of person who typically survives. Their results? Young, slender men have the best odds of surviving a plane crash. (Old, fat women have the worst odds — sorry Aunt Myrtle.)
The FAA has found that differences in age, gender, and girth account for 31% of the difference between people’s evacuation times. Escaping a plane crash requires you to maneuver quickly through narrow aisles with luggage and wreckage strewn about. You may even have to throw blockages out of your way. You then have to slip through an emergency exit that may only be twenty inches wide. Kind of hard to do if you’re fat and out of shape. Not only can being out of shape reduce your chances of survival, it could also put other people’s lives at risk because they have to wait for you to exit safely. Hold-ups at the exit due to passengers having trouble deplaning has caused many unnecessary deaths. In a runway collision that occurred in 1991, investigators found the charred remains of 10 passengers lined up in the aisle waiting to leave the wing exit; folks who froze up and had trouble squeezing through the exit had created a fatal bottleneck. If you’re on the rotund side, make it a goal to shed some of that table muscle so you’ll be fit enough to save your own life and perhaps the lives of others (and not just on a plane, either, but in all kinds of survival situations). We’ve got plenty of workouts on our site to choose from to get started.

Fly in Bigger Planes if Possible

If you have the choice between flying in a puddle jumper or a 737, choose the 737. According to FAA investigations, larger planes have more energy absorption in a crash which means you’re subjected to less deadly force, and that may equate to a better survival rate. Consider flying on Southwest — whose fleet consists solely of 737s — and avoid regional carriers when possible; not only are their planes smaller, they have an accidents and incidents rate double that of national carriers and their pilots are often less experienced and overworked. Note that national airlines frequently use a regional carrier for some of the routes that fly under their name.

Remember the Five Row Rule

Five row rule survive plane crash diagram illustration. A few years ago, Popular Mechanics put out an article that analyzed every commercial plane crash in the U.S. and where survivors were sitting in each accident. The article’s author concluded that in the event of a crash, the safest place to be sitting was in the back of the plane. While they made a compelling case in that piece, Popular Mechanics’ conclusion isn’t well supported by expert research. According to the folks who dedicate their lives to studying plane crashes, the statistics are inconclusive because every plane crash is different. Sure, many crashes are nose-first, thus making the back of the plane safer, but there are some that have happened tail-first or wing-first. You just don’t know what kind of crash you’ll be in. Instead of worrying about whether your seat is near the back, focus on finding a seat near an exit. According to researcher Ed Galea, those who survive a plane crash typically only have to move an average of five rows to escape. Beyond five rows, the chance of getting out alive decreases. The best seat to have is in the exit row as you’d be the first one out should you need to exit. If you can’t snag that seat, go for the aisle. Not only do you have easier access to the lavatory during flight, you also have a 64% chance of survival compared to the 58% chance you’d have sitting in a window seat. Also avoid bulkhead rows. Sure, you have more leg room, but the walls don’t “give” as much as seats do when you collide with them in a crash. Galea admits that there are exceptions to the Five Row Rule; he’s found people that successfully moved 19 rows to get to an exit. Moreover, even if you’re just two rows away from an exit, there’s always the chance that the exit door will be blocked or jammed. Overall, though, your chances of survival will increase if you’re within five rows of an exit.

Overcome the Normalcy Bias With an Action Plan

As we discussed in detail in our post on why we’re hardwired for sheepdom, we’re all naturally affected by the Normalcy Bias. The Normalcy Bias causes our brains to assume that things will be predictable and normal all the time. When things aren’t normal, it takes our brain a long time to process this. Instead of springing to action when something unexpected happens, our brain kind of shrugs and figures that what is going on can’t be so bad, because truly bad events are so out of the ordinary. Investigators have discovered that normalcy bias has caused many unnecessary deaths in plane crashes. Instead of taking immediate action after a crash, people sort of mill around. Many will even start looking for their carry-on luggage before getting to the exit. Normalcy bias manifested itself in dramatic fashion during a plane collision in 1977 that killed 583 people — the worst aircraft disaster in history. Two 747 jumbo jets collided with each other just above the runway on the small island of Tenerife (part of the Canary Islands off of Morocco). After the collision, one jet tumbled to the ground and exploded, killing all 248 passengers on board. The other jet crash-landed, but didn’t explode. The collision sheared away the top of the jet and flames began to take over the aircraft. Passengers who survived the initial collision could have escaped unharmed, but they had to act fast. Paul Heck, a passenger on the burning plane (who was 65, by the way), sprung to action. He unbuckled his seatbelt, grabbed his wife’s hand, and hightailed it to the nearest exit. They, along with 68 other passengers, survived, while 328 died. In an interview after the disaster, Mr. Heck noted how most people just sat in their seats acting like everything was fine even after colliding with another plane and seeing the cabin fill with smoke. Researchers believe that passengers had a little over a minute to escape before being consumed by the flames, and are convinced that if more people had taken immediate action instead of remaining in their seats pretending like things were okay, the survival rate would have been much, much higher. To overcome the normalcy bias, you need to have an action plan on what you’re going to do in the event of an accident every single time you get on the plane. Know where the exits are. When you’ve spotted the nearest exit, count the number of rows between yourself and that row. Should it be nighttime, or the interior lights fail, you won’t have to succumb to confusion because you’ll know right where to go. Size up the passengers around you to see who could be potential roadblocks to your exit. If you’re traveling with kids, talk to your wife about who will be responsible for which kid in the event of an accident. Mentally rehearse quickly springing to action as soon as the plane comes to a stop. Another reason it’s important to have an action plan is that there’s a good chance you won’t have too much assistance from the flight crew. One study found that 45 percent of the flight attendants in survivable crashes are incapacitated in some way. You need to be ready to take action without direction from anyone.

Read the Safety Card and Listen to the Flight Attendants

Man on airplane reading safety card illustration.

Another thing you can do to overcome the Normalcy Bias is to read through the safety card as well as listen to the flight attendants when they give their pre-flight safety spiel. Just because you’ve amassed enough frequent flier miles to circumnavigate the globe 1,000 times, you’re definitely not off the hook. You may think you’re justifiably confident, but you’re probably complacent; in a report published a few years ago, the FAA found that frequent fliers were the least informed on what to do and most susceptible to the normalcy bias in the event of a plane crash. Re-reading the safety card will remind you where the nearest exits are and what to do during a crash landing. As you read through the safety guidelines, formulate your action plan.

Remember the Plus 3/Minus 8 Rule

Man in airplane seat looking at watch survive plane crash illustration. In the aviation world, Plus 3/Minus 8 refers to the first three minutes after takeoff and the last eight minutes before landing. According to flight crash investigators, close to 80% of all plane crashes occur during this timeframe. In between those times, the chances of a plane crash occurring drop dramatically. Thus, if you want to up your chances of survival, you need to be extra vigilant and ready to take action during the first 3 minutes after takeoff and the last 8 minutes before landing. Here are some suggestions from The Survivor’s Club on what to do and not do during Plus 3/Minus 8:

  • Don’t sleep.
  • Make sure your shoes are on and secured. If you’re traveling with your wife or girlfriend, make sure she’s wearing flats and not high heels. It’s hard to run in stilettos.
  • Don’t drink before getting on a plane. You want to be fully present in the event of a crash.
  • Make sure your seatbelt is securely fastened — low and tight.
  • Go over your action plan.

You don’t need to be paranoid during this time, just vigilantly relaxed.

Put on Your Oxygen Mask as Soon as It Drops

Airplane cabins are pressurized so you can breathe normally at 30,000 feet. When a cabin loses pressure, there’s so little air at high altitudes that getting oxygen to your bloodstream is next to impossible. That’s where oxygen masks come in. They pump pure oxygen into your nose and mouth so that you can get the air you need. In an event where the mask drops from above, put it on as soon as it drops. According to passenger studies, most folks think they can survive an hour without a mask after a plane loses pressure. You actually just have a few seconds. Just a few seconds of oxygen deprivation can cause mental impairment. If you want to get out of a malfunctioning airplane alive, you’ll want all your mental faculties intact when it lands/crashes. Also, follow the safety guidelines of securing your mask first before helping others secure theirs. You’re pretty much useless to others if you’re not getting oxygen to your brain.

Assume Brace Position

Man assuming brace position in airplane seat illustration. The idea of brace positions might seem a little silly; there’s no way that curling up in a ball would help you survive a plane crash, right? But research has shown that brace positions do indeed up the chances of survival in an emergency crash landing. The positions help reduce the velocity of your head when it inevitably slams into the seat in front of you. Moreover, they help minimize limb flailing. In addition to assuming a brace position, make sure your seatbelt is securely fastened — low and tight — over your lap. Those bad boys are designed to withstand 3,000 pounds of force, which is about three times as much as your body could handle without passing out. You can trust ’em.

Forget Your Carry-On Luggage, Remember the Kids

Alright. The plane has crash landed and you’re still alive. Time to get to those exits as fast as you can. Remember, you only have 90 seconds. Believe it or not, you need to be reminded to forget your carry-on luggage! It will slow you down and block others’ escape, and it may injure you or someone else if you try to get down the very steep inflatable slides with it. You can get another iPad when you return safely to your home. In your rush to get out of the plane, don’t forget your kids. That actually happens. Your brain does stupid things in disasters. Keep reminding yourself, “I have kids. I have kids. I have kids.” Ideally, you should have a plan with your wife and kids on who goes with who in case of an emergency exit. _____________________ Source: The Survivor’s Club by Ben Sherwood Illustrations by Ted Slampyak Previous Next The Flight Expert is supported by its readers. This page may contain links from our advertisers and we may earn a commission if you buy using them. This does not influence the content we share. Learn more Recent news coverage of horrific air disasters may have piqued your interest in learning how to survive a plane crash, but in actuality airplanes are one of the safest modes of travel. In fact, the likelihood that your plane will crash is infinitesimally small: in 2020, there were only 40 accidents involving large commercial passenger planes, out of a total of 24.4 million flights, according to Dutch aviation consulting firm To70. That amounts to a .00016 percent chance that your plane will crash. Your odds of being involved in an airplane crash with at least one fatality are even lower – about 1 in 4,880,000 or .00002 percent. If you do happen to be involved in an airplane accident, your chances of survival are quite good. According to the latest statistics from the NTSB, 95.7% of passengers survive plane crashes. However, the survival rate decreases to 76.6% for accidents that are considered survivable but involve fire, severe injury, or substantial damage to the aircraft. So what can you do, if anything, to make sure that in the unlikely event you experience a severe air crash, you’re one of the passengers that lives? Research shows that there are definite and concrete steps you can take. In fact, experts say that up to 1/3 of all past air accident deaths could have been prevented if the passengers had known what to do ahead of time and had taken the proper steps during the emergency. Do you know how to quickly get into the brace position and why it’s so important? What’s the first thing you’d do if the captain announced the plane was going down? By taking a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the advice, strategies, and actions below, you’ll be able to answer these questions. More importantly, you’ll significantly increase your chances of surviving any plane crash, severe or not.

1. Have a plan

Most injuries and fatalities that occur during airplane accidents are caused by fire or by the impact of the crash itself. No matter where you are seated on the plane in relation to where a fire or impact occurs, your chances of survival are much greater if you’re prepared and ready to act. Before you fly, you should have an emergency plan, know it, and be ready to execute it. Fatality rates increase markedly after the first 90 seconds following a plane crash. You can greatly increase your chances of surviving an airplane crash if you take a few moments to look around the cabin and think about what you might do to survive in the event the plane goes down. As researcher Helen Muir from Cranfield University suggests, you should be prepared to make the most of any opportunities near you for survival and escape. One of the best things you can do to increase your odds of surviving a plane crash is also one of the most obvious: know where the emergency exits are. Once you are settled in your seat, count the rows to the nearest exit in front of and behind you so that you can feel your way in the dark if necessary. Write the number on your hand in pen if necessary. By being mentally prepared, you’ll naturally be more ready for physical action at a moment’s notice. Learn the strategies below and incorporate them into your plan. When the time comes, act. Don’t count on others to save your life.

2. Choose your seat wisely

Let’s be clear: the number one factor in whether or not you survive a plane crash is the nature of the accident itself. For example, if you’re sitting in the rear of the plane and the impact occurs primarily in the rear, then you’re going to have a lower chance of survival than passengers in the middle and front of the plane. That being said, recent studies suggest that certain seats are safer than others. Officially, the FAA states that no seat on an airplane is safer than any other. Aircraft manufacturers Airbus and Boeing echo this sentiment, saying that one seat is as safe as another if the passenger is using a seat belt. Study results support this idea to a certain extent, with the survival patterns of several crashes being completely random with regard to seat location. However, evidence exists that is both ample and strong enough to answer the following questions: Where’s the safest place to sit on an airplane? According to recent studies, the safest place to sit is in the rear third of the plane, with the last row deemed the very safest because it’s closest to the rear exit.

  • The 5 Row Rule: Your chances of surviving a plane crash are much greater if your seat is within five rows of an exit. The reason for this is simple: plane crash survivors travel an average of five rows to reach an exit after a crash. Those traveling farther than five rows to an exit had a significantly higher fatality rate.

Which seats on a plane are the least safe? Seats in the middle third of the cabin tend to have a lower survival rate than other seats, as do seats in the front third of the plane, especially the first four rows (usually first class). Are aisle seats safer than window seats? A 2008 study by the University of Greenwich found that survival in aisle seats was higher than other seats, but noted that “being seated on the aisle provides only a marginally higher chance of survival than not sitting on the aisle”. In contrast, a 2015 study by Time magazine of air crashes since 1985 suggests that aisle seats are the least safe throughout the plane, with aisle seats in the middle third of the cabin having the worst fatality rate. According to the Time study, middle seats in the rear third of the plane are the safest overall.

3. Dress appropriately

The clothing you wear on the airplane could help make the difference between life and death in the event of a crash. Wear a long-sleeve shirt (shirts without buttons are best) and long pants. Wear flame-resistant clothing if possible (most western and work clothing retailers carry this, from Carhartt and other brands). Avoid polyester, nylon, and acrylic as these materials melt at low temperatures and will stick to and burn your skin. Cotton is preferred, as it is less flammable. Wool is better when flying over water as it won’t lose its insulating properties as quickly when wet, but be aware that it will become much heavier in the water. Don’t wear shorts, dresses, skirts, or loose fitting, flowing clothing. Make sure to have sturdy, comfortable, lace-up shoes with good soles and traction. Do not wear sandals, high heels, or slip-on shoes. Your escape from a burning plane could depend on it.

4. Pay attention to the safety briefing

Fifty percent of airline passengers report not paying attention during the pre-flight safety presentation, and eighty-nine percent don’t read the safety information cards in the seat-back pockets in front of them. For every flight you are on, you should know where all safety devices and features, like life jackets, are stored and how to access them in case of emergency. Every aircraft has different safety features and procedures, so it’s a mistake to assume you are already familiar with the pertinent safety information. Even experienced flyers should pay attention to the safety aids provided as this information could be essential during an emergency.

5. The Plus Three, Minus Eight Rule

The name of the plus three, minus eight rule refers to the fact that eighty percent of all plane crashes occur during takeoff and landing – the first three minutes and final eight minutes of the flight, respectively. Remain aware and alert during this time – don’t read or otherwise distract yourself. Be ready, if necessary, to execute your plan. Another recommendation from the experts: have your shoes on during this time, just in case.

6. Seat belts, seat belts, seat belts

It’s probably not a shock that passengers who are wearing seat belts during airplane crashes are much more likely to survive than those who aren’t. What may surprise you is how many passengers reported losing valuable time due to difficulty removing their seat belts. Unlike car seat belts, seat belts in aircraft usually don’t release with the push of a button. While it’s important to wear your seat belt whenever you’re seated during your flight, it’s equally important to take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with its operation, by sight and by touch, so that in the event of an emergency, you’ll be able to release the belt, even if the cabin is dark. When you fasten your seat belt, pull it as tight as you can. Every centimeter of slack in the belt triples the g-force you’ll experience in a crash. Pull the belt down over your pelvis as much as possible, with the upper ridge of the pelvic bone above the belt. This will keep you in place much more effectively during a crash than if the belt was over the soft tissues and organs of your abdomen. Leave your seat belt on at all times when seated, especially when sleeping. In most cases, you won’t have time to fully wake up and react before the crash occurs, so it’s important to be securely fastened to your seat ahead of time.

7. Use carryon luggage to pad your legs

Place your carryon bag under the seat in front of you, rather than in the overhead bin. While it will definitely reduce your legroom, it will also help prevent your legs from flying forward in a crash and reduced the chances you’ll break your shin or ankle bones. You’re going to have a much better chance at surviving a plane crash if you can still walk after the initial impact.

Survive a plane crash: During the crash and evacuation

In most cases, you’ll know the plane is going to crash before it actually does. The cabin crew will likely be issuing instructions; listen and follow them carefully. Use this time to go over your plan, especially exit locations and distance from your seat. If the plane is going down over water, put on your life vest but don’t inflate it until you are out of the airplane. An inflated life vest will make it more difficult to get out of the plane, whether the plane is submerged in water or not. Hold your breath and swim out of the plane, then inflate the life vest.

8. Pad and prepare your space

Secure any loose items in the vicinity. Tie your shoes tightly. Put on and zip up your jacket. If you can, pad your head with a pillow, coat, blanket, or other soft object. Also try to pad your shins and ankles, if possible.

9. Brace for impact

Both anecdotal and empirical evidence show that assuming the brace position or crash position as instructed in the pre-flight safety presentation prior to impact greatly increases your chances of not only surviving a plane crash, but reducing the chances of severe injury if you do survive. Fatalities in plane crashes are more likely to result from impact injuries than any other single cause. There are numerous reports of accidents where most passengers died and only a few walked away, reporting that they had been in the brace position at the time of impact. When performed properly, the brace position reduces injury to the head, neck, and legs. It also helps prevent whiplash, keeps you from flying around the interior of the cabin, and protects you from flying objects, at least to a certain extent. If you assume the brace position prior to impact, you’re less likely to be concussed and less likely to sustain broken limbs. The brace position is perhaps the single most important thing you can do to survive an imminent plane crash. How to perform the brace position: Place your feet flat on the floor, as far back under your knees as possible to reduce shin injury. If you can reach the seat in front of you, place one hand palm down on the back or top of the seat. Cross the other hand palm down over the first hand. Rest your forehead against your hands. Don’t lace your fingers. Alternately, you can rest your head against the seat in front if you. Lace your fingers behind your head, cradling the sides of your head with your arms. If you can’t reach the seat in front of you or there isn’t one, bend forward with your chest on your thighs, cross your wrists and grab your ankles. You can also grab your calves, with the wrists uncrossed, or lace your fingers behind your head, cradling the sides of your head with your arms. Stay in the brace position until the plane comes to a complete stop. After the initial crash, there may be additional impacts to the plane.

10. Use the oxygen mask

If the cabin becomes de-pressurized, you have 15-20 seconds to put on your oxygen mask before you become unconscious. Put it on immediately, before assisting children or other passengers. You’re no good to anyone if you’re unconscious during an emergency.

11. Hold on to something solid

In the event of a free fall or if the plane breaks apart in mid-air, you should hold on to the most solid, substantial thing you can find. It may sound improbable but there are instances where people have actually ridden solid objects like seats or other parts of the plane and survived falls of thousands of feet without a parachute. The most incredible story told by these so-called “wreckage riders” is that of Vesna Vulovic, a flight attendant on a Yugoslav DC 9 jet airliner that blew up in January of 1972. Despite falling more than 33,000 feet, she was able to survive by holding on to a food cart. She was initially paralyzed after the fall but later recovered the ability to walk.

Survive a plane crash: After the crash

12. Follow instructions

Flight crews are trained to know how to respond in the event of a crash. Listen to them and follow their instructions.

13. Get out now

Fatality rates increase significantly after the first 90 seconds following a plane crash. Follow the instructions of the cabin crew, but if they’re dazed, disoriented, or dead, don’t wait. Get out of the cabin as fast as you can and as far from the plane as possible. If the nearest exit is behind you and accessible, ignore the human propensity to move forward rather than backward and move to the rearward exit. Assess the exit for safety – look out the window to see if there are any hazards present. If so, proceed to the exit on the opposite side of the plane or the next closest exit. Leave your luggage. Don’t waste valuable time looking for belongings that mean little in a life or death situation. If necessary, you can return to the plane later for anything that’s salvageable.

14. Don’t climb seats

Studies have shown that following a plane crash, most seat climbers do so because other avenues are blocked and they are simply moving around the obstruction. Research suggests that passengers within two rows of an exit, on the other hand, may attempt to climb seats if the aisle is congested in order to reach the exit more quickly. However, the result is that the exit row becomes even more congested, increasing the time it takes for all passengers, including the seat climbers, to exit.

15. Stay low

Most fatalities are due to post-crash smoke, fumes, and fire. In case of smoke or other fumes in the cabin, be prepared to stay as low as possible while still evacuating the plane as quickly as you can. Cover your nose and mouth with a cloth, moistened if possible. Consider carrying a portable, heat-resistant smoke hood, available from many retailers.

16. Move away from the plane

The plane may explode or erupt in fire. Move at least 500 feet away from the plane, in an upwind direction. However, stay in the vicinity of the crash so that rescuers can find you.

17. Assess the situation

Do you have any wounds that need to be cared for? If you’re bleeding, apply pressure immediately. Assist others with basic first aid if you’re able.

18. Stay in the area

Rescuers will arrive as soon as possible. Stay in the area so they can find you. Estimated reading time: 13 minutes

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