The Truth about Airline Crash Survivability

For many air travelers, watching Asiana Flight 214 crash onto the runway at San Francisco airport was the realization of their worst fears. They consider those that survived to be lucky to have escaped the impact and the fire that engulfed the plane afterward. In actuality, the crash of Asiana 214 was typical of most airline crashes, albeit tragic in that there was loss of life. How is that so?

Let’s take a look at the numbers. Arnold Barnett, professor of operations research at MIT, has done the work for us. Tracking the numbers for a ten year period, Barnett calculated the chances of being killed on your next domestic flight at one in sixty million. Put another way, a person could fly every day for over 160,000 years before dying in a crash. And regardless of how often you fly, the risk remains the same.

In the unlikely event that you are in a plane crash, the chances of you being killed are still incredibly small. Using data between 1983 and 2000, the National Transportation Safety Board analyzed all the airplane accidents during those years. Their findings may surprise you. Of 53,487 people involved in plane crashes 51,207 survived. That equates to a survival rate of nearly 96 percent. In what they deemed the most “serious” accidents, which involved fire, injuries, or considerable damage, the survival rate was still over 76 percent.

Unfortunately, many people involved in a plane crash believe there is little or nothing they can do to save themselves. This is a deadly myth. The European Transport Safety Council has determined that 40 percent of fatalities in plane crashes worldwide are in fact survivable. That means that for every one hundred people that perish in a plane crash, 40 of them could have lived. But what could they have done differently?

Many think that in something as tragic as a plane crash, mass panic is sure to ensue. However, the exact opposite is true. In scientific terms it is called behavioral inaction. In the field of aviation it is referred to as negative panic. For the most part, individuals in an accident waste precious time in a state of immobility. They are unable to quantify what is going on around them. A crash is something unexpected, an event that doesn’t match their experience. As unbelievable as it may seem, passengers remain immobile waiting to be told what to do.

In a plane crash, science shows that you have 90 seconds to get out. After that fire can burn through the aluminum skin of the plane and the temperature inside the cabin will climb to over 2000 degrees. That isn’t much time in a plane full of people clambering to escape or idly standing in your way. To decrease your chances of becoming a statistic, follow some simple guidelines. Sit as close to an emergency exit as you can. Your chances of exiting a crashed plane are greatest if you are seated within five rows of an exit. Any farther away and the odds against you getting out increase substantially. Also pay attention to the preflight emergency instructions. Go over in your mind what you will do in the event of an emergency. That way, should you find yourself in an accident, your advanced preparation will help you to act instead of sitting immobile as you try to take it all in.

About the Author:
Alan Carr is an avid aviation aficionado learning about the aspects of the flying world from the business to the technical, while also frequently writing on what he finds. He currently works with to provide resources on aircraft related information.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>