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More than 90% of plane crashes in recent years had survivors.

In America, for example, there were 568 plane crashes between 1983 - 2000: Out of the collective 53487 people onboard, 51207 lived to tell the tale. That's a survival rate of 96%.

Some experts believe that almost one-third of deaths in aeroplane accidents could have been prevented if people knew what to do and took action. (source)


Question:
Beyond bringing on board special items, what are the things a passenger can do to increase his chances of survival in the unlikely event of a plane crash – including its aftermath ?


note: Although plane crashes are very rare, it's nevertheless a question worthy of contemplation both
– theoretically, for argument's sake, as it's an interesting thought all by itself
– and from the point of view that each preventible human death is one too many and unnecessary. For the tens of thousands who experienced a crash as well as their friends and relatives it's certainly not a theoretical question.

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    $\begingroup$ To me this looks off-topic, being directed to passengers. $\endgroup$ – Federico Jan 6 at 15:08
  • $\begingroup$ It's in the same category as Q556 though. $\endgroup$ – summerrain Jan 6 at 15:10
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    $\begingroup$ that has been asked 5 years ago in the early days of the site, when the scope had not yet been fully worked out. I would rise the point on meta $\endgroup$ – Federico Jan 6 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ It would have to be closed now though. Along with lots of questions about the brace position for example. Is that really what we want? $\endgroup$ – summerrain Jan 6 at 15:36
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    $\begingroup$ Best thing to do is not worry about it, the odds are high you will never be in a crash. $\endgroup$ – zeta-band Jan 14 at 17:27
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« Some of the survival game involves factors passengers largely can't control, like the weather, flight crew skills, the design of airline seats and the construction, maintenance and age of the plane. But passengers themselves can do a lot to improve their chances of survival simply by making smart choices and being informed. »⁴

Things you can do:

Preventive Measures

Preparatory Measures

  • Bring helpful items on board.

  • Clothes – what you choose to wear can help or hinder your escape:

    • Opt for flat, sturdy shoes. Flip-flops and high heels won't help you make it to the emergency exit.²
    • In case of a fire or glass and metal debris, long-sleeved shirts and heavy cotton trousers will offer more protection than shorts and a T-shirt.²
    • Form fitting clothes are less prone to catch fire.
    • Polyester and other synthetic fabrics will melt to your skin.³

Before Take-Off

  • Pay attention to safety advice. It can save your life. Read the safety card (in the seatback in front of you) as planes do differ.

  • Memorize the emergency exit locations before take-off. Plan and visualize your escape route. Count the rows (armrests⁴) to your nearest exit (in front of and behind you in case one direction is blocked!). That way, in the event of smoke filling the cabin or if emergency lighting fails and it’s very dark, you will know the number of seat rows and can feel your way to an exit.¹ Many passengers survive the initial impact but are killed by the ensuing fire, smoke and sometimes water. 90 seconds should be used as a time frame for escaping.⁴

  • Memorize where your nearest cabin crew are, because their help and instructions will make a huge difference.²

  • Be aware that at 35000ft you have just 30-60 seconds to don the oxygen mask and tug on the line to get the flow going. After that, you lose consciousness.²

In-Flight

  • Don't drink alcohol.

  • Seatbelt:

    • Keep your seatbelt on whenever seated (also prevents turbulence deaths).
    • Fasten it tightly - every inch of slack increase the potential g-forces you could be subjected to during an impact.²
    • Wear it across your pelvis, which will handle impact better than your stomach².
    • Practice opening and closing it:

      After interviewing 1,900 survivors and 155 cabin-crew members, Professor Galea made an interesting discovery: Most passengers lose valuable time because they struggle to undo their seatbelts. “People tend to try and press a button on the seatbelt, because in this emergency situation they revert to normal behaviour [learned from] car seatbelts [with] a push-button system.”²

During Take-Off and Landing (when ~80% of accidents occur²):

  • Don't sleep/nap wearing eye mask and earphones.²
  • Stay alert and aware of your surroundings.²
  • Keep your shoes on

When a Crash is Imminent

  • Brace for impact:
    • Put your feet flat on the floor, farther back than your knees ("aft position").²
    • Consider placing hand luggage under the seat in front of you to act as a cushion (to prevent your feet from hitting the seat, I assume). That way you are less likely to suffer broken ankles that will hinder your escape.²

Escape and Aftermath

  • After the initial impact it's common for fire to break out. Just a few breaths of toxic smoke can cause you to pass out. In the event of smoke/fire:

    • Cover your mouth and nose with a wet cloth (e.g. wet the seat back headrest).²
    • Stay low. (That doesn't necessarily mean crawl on your hands and knees. Although there will be less smoke at floor level, you could be crushed or suffocated under luggage and other passengers.) Instead, keep your head down.²
  • Don't retrieve your luggage.¹

  • Don't inflate your life jacket inside the plane. It hinders your escape.²

  • Move fast but resist the urge to push and shove. It's likely to make matters worse and cause others to lash out.²

  • Once on the ground get away as fast and as far as you can.²


sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

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