How to survive a plane crash

Adopt the brace position and remember how your seatbelt works

Flying is the safest form of transport. Surprisingly, out of 53,487 people involved in plane crashes in the US between 1983 and 2000, as many as 51,207 survived. According to aviation safety expert Professor Ed Galea, there’s one general rule. “The important thing is to get your upper torso down as much as possible,” he says. “Surviving an aircraft crash is not a matter of fate. You can help yourself by getting out of an aircraft quickly, so there are things you can do to improve your chances of surviving.” Another expert, whose company AmSafe Aviation has made the first airbags for commercial aviation seats, also emphasizes the brace position. But for tall people in a short seating pitch, that can be hard to manage.
In the shock of the aftermath of an accident, many passengers forget how to unfasten their seatbelts, trying to push a button as they would in a car and forgetting there’s a latch. If there’s a fire, it’s the toxic smoke that can kill rather than the flames, in just a few breaths. It can also cloud how to reach the exit, especially if the emergency lighting fails. So when you board, count the rows from your seat to the exit.
Mercedes Johnson, one of four people who survived an American Airlines crash on a Colombian mountain in 1995, thinks that where she sat helped her – over the wing. “I’ve heard that it’s the most reinforced with metal,” she says. But it also depends on how the plane crashes and whether there’s a fire in one of the engines. Another aviation safety expert concludes: “You can’t say where the best place is to sit.”
[pictured: Controlled impact demonstration conducted by NASA and the FAA, 1984; courtesy NASA]