Most aircraft accidents are not midair collisions or explosions that kill all aboard. The National Transportation Safety Board has found that more than 95 percent of airplane occupants survive the crashes in which there are some fatalities.
1. Don’t panic
Always follow all instructions from the flight crew. They “sometimes” know what they are doing”
Pick the right seat
Book a seat in the back of the plane. The front of the plane usually bears the brunt of any impact, so passengers in the tail have a 40 percent higher survival rate than those at the front.
Sure, most of the time you’ll get off the plane a few minutes later than the folks up near the pilot, but unless you’ve got a tight connecting flight, it’s not going to make much difference. It’s better to be one of the people who gets off the plane at all, when some people aren’t going to make it.
Book a seat in an exit row, preferably the one farthest back in the plane. If you’re fit enough to open the door in an emergency, you can be the first person out. If you take this assignment, take it seriously and read the instructions. Without actually touching any equipment, rehearse the motions of opening the particular type of emergency door. Follow all instructions from the flight crew.
If you don’t want the door-opening responsibility, try to sit one row away. In any case, book a seat within seven rows of an exit. If you can book a seat that’s within seven rows of an exit both forward and aft, you’ll give yourself a lot of chances to get off the plane and survive.
Dress for survival
Wear sensible, closed-toe shoes. It’s hard to run in high heels, and sandals will leave your feet exposed to flames, burning gasoline and glass and sharp steel.
Wear long sleeves and long pants or slacks. It could save your skin.
Don’t wear polyester or other synthetic clothing when you fly. If there’s a fire or explosion, you don’t want your clothes turning into a napalm-like substance on your skin. All-poly is probably worse than cotton-poly blends. If you’re looking for real flame resistance though, go with wool.
More people are killed by fires’ poisonous gasses than by heat. Smoke escape emergency respirator masks are available in a wide variety of prices and weights. Some cost under $20, weigh less than a pound and don’t take up much room. They cover the entire head and are designed to give 10-15 minutes of clean air, probably all which would be needed.
Study your surroundings
When you get to your seat, count the number of rows to the nearest exit row in front of you and behind you. If the plane is dark and smoky after a crash landing, you can count and feel your way to the exit.
Yes, there are lights in the floor that are supposed to guide you. And they will if everything is working right. But we’re talking about an emergency landing here, so everything may not be working right.
Check under your seat to be sure the safety vest is actually there. If it’s not, ask for one before leaving the gate.
Fasten your seat belt all the time that you’re in the seat. You won’t get sucked out if the plane’s fuselage fails. And fasten it quite snugly at landing and takeoff, when crash danger is at a maximum.
Do your homework
Read the safety card in the seat pocket in front of you. There’s a lot of different models of planes out there. And there are many varieties of the different models. And different airlines fit them out differently.
Rehearse one (or more) of the brace positions for an emergency landing. The correct brace position may be different for exit or bulkhead rows, or in First or Business Class.
Listen to and watch the safety briefing, no matter how many times you’ve flown. Rehearse the moves of tightening an air mask and securing a flotation vest.
Takeoff and landing
Don’t cross your legs or your ankles at takeoff or on landing. If you have a rough landing and you’ve got one broken ankle, you can limp off the plane. If you have two broken ankles, you’ll have to crawl off.
If you wear glasses, consider taking them off at takeoff and on landing, unless they’re absolutely unbreakable. You don’t want your glasses breaking, flying off your head or injuring your eyes in a hard crash. You can put them back on as soon as the plane is aloft or has come to a stop.
Turn your reading light off when taking off or landing at night. Your eyes will be more adjusted to the dark if you have to leave the plane in a hurry.
Attitude is a critical factor during any accident or emergency! If you believe you will survive, your chances of survival are much higher no matter how serious the crash is. Conversely, if you think you are not going to survive, the chances are much greater that you will not survive.
Don’t panic if there’s an emergency. Follow all instructions from the flight crew.
If there’s smoke in the cabin, get low and crawl below the level of the smoke and toxic fumes, so you can breathe until you get out of the plane.
In a water evacuation, don’t inflate your life vest until you’re out the door, in the water and tired of swimming. Inflating it early will increase the chances of puncturing or ripping the vest, as well as limiting your ability to swim clear of the wreckage and fire. Inside the airplane, an inflated vest can reduce your mobility and block other people. Worse yet, it may keep you from ducking underwater to reach the exit if the plane is sinking quickly.
Once you’re out of the aircraft, don’t block the exit for the people who are coming behind you. Move away. In fact, get 500 feet away (unless instructed otherwise) to protect yourself from a late explosion. Upwind is better to keep away from any poisonous fumes. If you’re in the water, don’t inflate your vest until you need it to keep afloat. Swim into the waves and wind; the wind will carry fire and smoke away from you; wave action will carry floating fuel away from you.
Watch for life rafts to be deployed; some airplanes are equipped with them. Hang onto the life raft if you are not injured; reserve the raft space for those who are injured. But stay with the rafts; they will be spotted more easily by rescue workers than a single person floating in a life vest.
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