When airplanes crash, preparation is key

When airplanes crash, preparation is key

27th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

Do you pay attention when the stewardess gives safety instructions? Do you assume that you’ll still be alive should your plane crash?

Statistics have shown that out of 53,487 passengers from the United States who were in an airline accident between 1983 and 2000, 51,207 survived.

It doesn’t have much to do with luck if you’re among the survivors. You can even do something about it, according to Ed Galea’s advice.

The Professor of Mathmatic Modelling at the University of Greenwich in London is one of the world’s leading airline safety specialists. He interviewed over 1,000 survivors of 105 airline crashes.

In a report published on British newspaper The Guardian last Saturday, Galea gave tips on surviving the plane crash.

  • Always keep your shoes on until the airplane is at a high altitude. You might need them to walk through the wreckage after a crash. 
  • There’s never been any evidence to prove the claim that you’re safer in the back than in the front of the plane. It’s best to have a seat close to an exit.
  • You’re also safer in an aisle seat than next to the window because you can escape faster that way.
  • It’s very important to practice undoing your seatbelt. Many people search in vain for a release button, as if they were in their cars, and end up dying.

Photo Sugar Sweet Sunshine Personally, Galea counts how many rows are between him and the emergency exit, front and back. In his interviews, people who survived the plane crash said they became disoriented after a crash when it became dark and smoky. If you can’t see anything, then you’ve got to be able to feel your way out.

Galea advises people to read the safety instructions. If you’re sitting next to an emergency exit, memorise how it opens, and open it, if necessary. You have to make a conscious effort; it’s not something you do automatically.

The brace position is the best way to absorb the shock of a crash, and will help prevent being knocked unconscious, or breaking a leg. You should practice putting your head between your knees, and wrapping your arms around your legs.

Passengers of the Turkish Airway flight which crash-landed near Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam didn’t have enough forewarning to brace themselves, but preparation does lead to the best results in a crash.

Most people have never experienced a disaster, according to Michael Lindell, a professor of risk reduction of Texas A&M University in the United States.

“When something terrible happens, most people can’t believe it’s happening, and so to them, it just isn’t happening,” said Lindell. “These people then do nothing.”

Amanda Ripley, author of the book 'The Unthinkable: Who Survives when Disaster Strikes - And Why', wrote that people in a disaster can be divided into three groups. Ten to fifteen percent remain calm, and act fast and efficiently. Fifteen percent start to scream and cry. Airline cabin personnel are trained to isolate these people as quickly as possible, and to minimise their hysterics.

Interview with Amanda Ripley

Most people become lethargic and sluggish. It’s difficult to predict who falls into which category. Even decisive people can become totally confused. One thing is certain, people who are prepared themselves, and who know what to do, usually take the lead, directing and helping other people in an ordered, determined way. These people ultimately help themselves and others to survive, which is crucial in the minutes before emergency help arrives.

In an interview on YouTube, Ripley outlined some of her findings: People sometimes shutdown altogether. It’s much more common than panic, and it’s a huge problem.

[When a plane’s on the ground, and it’s about to catch fire,] people need to unbuckle their seatbelts, and get out. There are a number of terrible crashes where people were found burned in their seats … People become very communal, very caring of strangers. One of the most surprising things I found was that fear was not the dominant emotion in these situations. That’s what I think we’re all so scared about when we think of going through these things. People become very focused. There’s this rational approach, and a real affection for the people around you. The general theme is, regular people matter more than anything else.

NRC Handelsblad / AFP / Lila Lundquist / Expatica


Photo credits: JasonDGreat; Sugar Sweet Sunshine 

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