You have a 95.7 percent chance of surviving a plane crash if you follow this advice

You have a 95.7 percent chance of surviving a plane crash if you follow this advice

CultureMay 28, 2015

Great news! Despite the pervasive and completely understandable ethos that plane crashes are catastrophic, certainly fatal events, that isn't actually the case.

In fact, according to a National Transportation Safety Bureau report analyzing plane crashes from 1983 to 2000, the survival rate of accidents is actually a whopping, gigantic 95.7%. Of course, that report is old and there are obviously plane crashes that occur where everyone, or almost everyone, onboard dies, but despite that harrowing realization, those events are much rarer than you'd expect. The NTSB found that even in events categoriezed as "serious accidents" where fire and substantial fuselage damage occurred, 76.6% of passengers still lived. More incredulous still, aircraft accidents rates are actually at a historic low, despite the number of high profile recent crashes.

That being said, knowing what to do in case you're the 1 in 11 million Americans involved in a plane crash is crucial to your survival. In fact, the NTSB study found that nearly half of all plane crash deaths could have been prevented had passengers known the proper action to take.

So, because we love you and we want to see you stick around to read or weird articles for a while, we're going to offer you some research-backed advice from Ben Sherwood’s The Survivor’s Club on how to survive a plane crash in the event that you're the unlucky bastard that's in one.

1. You have 90 seconds

If you lived through the crash landing, you have a pretty good chance of getting out of the plane, and that's exactly what your first priority should be. But, you only have about 90 seconds to do so.

That's because in most* plane crashes, the cause of death isn't the actual impact, it's the fire that consumes the plane afterwards. Problems arise when people become stunned that they survived the crash, and become complacent about their next moves. 

People vastly underestimate how quickly a fire can engulf a plane;.surveys show that most people think they have about 30 minutes to get out of a burning plane, but in reality, it only takes about 90 seconds for the entire thing to incinerate. If that sounds fucking awful and terrifying, it should. You need be motivated to get your ass out of there faster than the length of one Jennifer Aniston relationship (fast).

*Depending on the distance you fall from.

2. Be fit and slim

An unfortunate reality of plane crash survival is that young, slender, fit men have the best chance of survival.  This realization comes from rigorous FAA surveys, which analyzed the data on plane crash survivors and tested nearly 2,500 people in simulated evacuations to find out the type of person who typically survives.

The survey found that differences in age, gender, and girth account for 31% of the difference between people’s evacuation times. This is because evacuating often involves you to quickly maneuver through narrow places, climb over wreckage, move blockages out of your way, and slip through emergency exits that may only be 20 inches wide. Not an easy thing to do if you're overweight, old or out of shape. That doesn't mean that if you're a BBW or a vivacious granny you're dead, but survival does favor the serial gym rats amongst us.

What's more, and sadder yet, is that being old, fat or out of shape can also put other people's survival at risk; as you may block their escape path or hold-up the exit. In fact, in a runway collision that occurred in 1991, investigators found the burned bodies of 10 passengers lined up in the aisle waiting to leave the wing exit. These were people folks had trouble moving through the aisle or couldn't squeeze through the exit and created a fatal bottleneck.

And oftentimes your weight, and certainly always your age, are things hardly within your control, this sounds a good a reason as ever take up parkour.

3. The bigger the plane, the safer you are

Larger planes are typically safer, because their size helps absorb energy from the crash. If you have the choice between flying in a 737 or a 747, chose the 747. Larger planes (at least in this country) also tend to have bigger structures; bigger seats, more leg room, wider exits ... all things that make maneuvering around the cabin easier.

Also, avoid regional carriers if you can because their accident rate is double that of national carriers. Regional pilots are often less experienced and overworked as well.

4. Sit within five rows of an exit

Every plane crash is different, so it's hard to make a judgment on where the safest place on the plane to sit is. That's why instead of worrying about what part of the plane would be safest (front vs. back vs. over the wings), focus on getting a seat as close to an exit row as you can. According to researcher Ed Galea, the most common survivors of crashes are those who only have to move five rows or less to evacuate. Beyond five rows, the chance of escape decreases.

That being said, the very best seat is in the exit row as you’d be the first one out. If you can’t snag that seat, go for the aisle. Not only do you have easier access to the bathroom during the flight, you also have a 64% chance of survival compared to the 58% chance you’d have sitting in a window seat elsewhere. There is a moral question you have to ask yourself when sitting in an exit row though; are you required to assist in an evacuation, or does that placement mean you're the first one out? That's a personal call. In traumatic emergencies, people's survival instincts make for a sort of "every man for himself" situation, but if you feel prepared to help, then you really should (although we're not sure how much that'll affect your survival chances).

Of course, Galea says there are exceptions to the Five Row Rule; people have successfully moved 19 rows to get to an exit and lived. And, even if you are in the exit row or close to it, there's still a chance it'll be blocked or the most damage will be in that area. Overall, though, your chances of survival will increase if you’re within five rows of an exit.

5. Have an action plan

One of the biggest contributors to airline crash fatalities is something called the Normalcy Bias. This phenomenon makes it so that, when something unusual like a plane crash occurs, it takes people way longer than normal to figure out what to do. Instead of springing to action, our brains are like "......?!" and in the intervening moments between realization and action, terrible things can happen.

That's why it's ultra-important to have an action plan. When you board the plane, take note of how far away from an exit you are, the path you'll take to get there, and what kind of obstacles could potentially present themselves to you should you have to evacuate. Consider a backup plan in case your chosen exit is blocked. Size up the other passengers to see if you can tell who would help or hinder your escape.

Another reason why it's so important to have an action plan is that 45 percent of the time, the flight crew is incapacitated during a crash and will be unable to help. Assume that if something goes wrong, you'll be on your own.

Probably the highest profile case of Normalcy Bias in an airline accident occurred during what was also the most deadly plane crash in history. Two planes collided perpendicularly as one was taking off and the other was landing in the midst of dense fog on a runway in Tenerife. The plane taking off sheared the roof off the landing plane, and immediately tumbled to the ground, killing everyone on board. However, in the landing plane, some people were so shocked at what had happened that they stayed seated. Others, like Paul Heck, sprung to action. A passenger on the burning plane (who was 65, by the way), he unbuckled his seatbelt, grabbed his wife’s hand, and hightailed it to the nearest exit. They, along with 68 other passengers, survived, while 328 died.

In an interview after the disaster, Mr. Heck was shocked at how most people just sat in their seats acting like everything was after the collision, even as the cabin filled with smoke. Researchers think that passengers had about a minute to escape before being consumed by the flames, and are convinced that if more people had taken immediate action instead of remaining in their seats pretending like things were okay, the survival rate would have increased dramatically.

6. Read that safety card. Read it! And listen to the flight attendants.

Reading the safety card and listening to the flight attendant's safety demonstration will help with your action plan. Just because you've accumulated enough miles on an airline for a free trip to Cleveland or whatever doesn't mean you know the drill. One FAA study found that frequent fliers were actually the least informed group on what to do in the event of an emergency, as well as the  most susceptible to the normalcy bias. Notice whether the passengers around you are reading the safety card and paying attention; if they're not, they could be one of the obstacles you face should you need to get out.

7. Remember the +3/-8 rule

Eighty percent of accidents happen either during the first three minutes of takeoff or the last eight minutes of landing, so during this time, it's important to be hyper-aware of your surroundings. Try your hardest not to fall asleep, although we all know you had like 40 wines at the airport Chili's. Make sure you're wearing shoes, as burning fuselage and oil are often present around a crash site. Check that nothing is down by your feet that could snag them and trip you up if you need to run out. Go over your action plan. Don't be drunk. That's for cruising altitude.

After those times, the chances of a plane crash occurring drop dramatically and you can zone out and irritate your neighbor with your incessant familial photo presentations.

8. Put your oxygen mask on as soon as it drops

If an oxygen mask drops out of the ceiling, put it on your face ASAP. That's because that if a plane loses cabin pressure, it becomes impossible to breath oxygen normally without assistance. And even going just a few seconds without oxygen can cause brain damage and mental impairment. You'll want to be as sharp as you can, with all your mental facilities intact when the plane lands, so make sure you don't waste any unnecessary time without that O2. Also, follow the safety guidelines of securing your mask first before helping others; You’re pretty much useless to other people if you’re not getting oxygen to your brain yourself.

9. Get into brace position

Brace position reduces the distance your neck has to snap downward on impact, which could mean the difference between paralysis and escape. The ball-like position also reduces limb flailing, which in turn decreases the chances that you'll sustain injury to one of your limbs.

On a related note, seatbelts make all the difference. Make sure yours 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, so they're pretty cool.

10. Kiss your luggage goodbye

When people survive the crash impact, their first instinct is that everything will be okay now that they're on the ground ... and they really just can't bear to part with the rad vintage ABBA t-shirt they have in their carry on. So, they stand up, and start rooting around in the overhead bins thinking they'll be able to leave with their belongings, but that's when shit hits the fan.

Remember, you only have 90 seconds to get out, so forget your luggage and your Skymall and get you. We promise you they'll be another pair of rhinestone-encrusted Costco jeans waiting for you once you get out of the burning plane.