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.
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 post we’re going to offer research-backed advice on what you can do to make it out of a plane crash alive.
1. 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 post. 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!
2. Read the Safety Card and Listen to the Flight Attendants
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.
3. 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 get out of a crashed airplane alive, you’ll want all your mental faculties intact when it lands. 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.
I always thought the brace positions were kind of silly. There’s no way that curling up in a ball would help you survive in a plane crash. 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.
Also, 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.
5. 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.
Have any of you been involved in a plane crash? Did you notice normalcy bias take hold of passengers? What do you think helped you escape alive? Share with us in the comments!