How to increase your chances of survival in a plane crash


How to increase your chances of survival in a plane crash

The wreckage from the plane that crashed in the mountains of Cerro Gordo, Colombia, on Tuesday, killing as many as 75 people (Picture: Getty Images)

If you look at the figures, it’s clear flying is definitely safer than being in a car. 

For every 3.1 million flights in 2015, there was just one accident, according to the International Air Transport Association.

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But as the recent plane crash in Colombia has shown, in which 75 people were killed and only six survived, when it happens, it can be catastrophic and with a large number of fatalities.

Though an investigation is still ongoing into what caused the accident, it raises the question of how some managed to survive the disaster.

Graham Braithwaite.jpg

Graham Braithwaite has offered his advice on how to stay safe during a flight emergency (Picture: Cranfield University)

How to increase your chances of survival in a plane crash

Graham Braithwaite, Professor of Safety and Accident Investigation at Cranfield University, has offered his advice on how to increase your chances of survival during a flight emergency.

Writing for The Conversation, he says: ‘The first factor is whether an accident is deemed ‘survivable’ at all.’

How to increase your chances of survival during a flight emergency

  • Wear your seatbelt tight and low
  • Be vigilant at all times and listen to the crew’s advice
  • Watch the safety video carefully – even if you’ve seen it dozens of times
  • Wear appropriate footwear for take off and during final approach and landing
  • Sit near an exit

Unsurvivable accidents, he says, tend to be those where there is ‘either a catastrophic loss of control or where the impact is at high velocity.’

An example is the Air France plane that crashed into the Atlantic in 2009. No one could have survived that because of the heavy impact with the sea, he explains.

But in the case of the United Airlines DC10 plane in 1989, despite the loss of all hydraulic systems, the heroic actions of the crew to steer the plane led to 185 survivors out of 296 on board.

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BRAZIL - JUNE 08: Handout image released on June 8, 2009 by the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) shows crew members preparing to tow a part of the wreckage of a Air Bus A330-200 jetliner which crashed in the Atlantic Ocean with 228 people on board in a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. As for June 8, search operations found 16 bodies of victims of the Air France flight 447. (Photo by Forca Aerea Brasileira via LatinContent/Getty Images)

Wreckage of Air France flight 447 which crashed in the Atlantic Ocean with 228 people on board (Picture: Getty Images)

United Airlines Flight 232 after the plane crashed at Sioux Gateway Airport in Sioux City, Iowa, on July 19, 1989. Denver Post Photo by Brian Brainerd (Photo By Brian Brainerd/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Despite United Airlines Flight 232 crashing at Sioux Gateway Airport in Iowa, on July 19, 1989, there were 185 survivors out of 296 on board (Picture: Getty Images)

Survivable versus ‘Unsurvivable’ accidents

According to Braithwaite, if the accident happens in the cruise phase of flight, such as those involving a ‘controlled flight into terrain’ tend to be less survivable.

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These accidents usually happen without the crew’s knowledge and occur at high speed with no warning so survivors tend to be rare.

If there are survivors, it’s usually because they’re thrown clear or were perhaps caught by a tree.

But in accidents where a problem has been identified beforehand, the use of tight seatbelts, along with adopting a suitable brace position, is known to have a strong effect on whether you survive.

Mr Braithwaite explains that such a high rate of survival is due to improvements in crashworthiness (the science of making structures better able to cope with impact), the cabin environment, and crew training.


According to the European Transport Safety Council, 90% of aircraft accidents are survivable (Picture: Getty)

Increased chances of survival

He says: ‘The materials we use now are less flammable. The seats better able to withstand impact forces. The exit routes are more clearly marked. The fire suppression systems are more effective and the space around exits is better designed to allow the fast flow of evacuating passengers.’

Passengers who pay more attention to the safety announcements and take notice of their nearest exits are also more likely to get off an aircraft that is on fire or filled with smoke.


Always listen to the crew’s advice in an emergency and stay calm (Picture: Alamy)

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Sitting close to an exit also helps, although if you sit there, you need to be able to act swiftly in an emergency.

Mr Braithwaite adds that external factors help too, such as strict planning rules at airports to ensure fire services can reach any part of an aerodrome within three minutes.

This has helped to increase the number of survivors who could have survived the impact but not the subsequent fire because they could not evacuate from the plane.

Seat belt is a safety strap or harness designed to hold a person securely in a seat, as in a motor vehicle or aircraft. Also called safety belt.

Wear your seatbelt tight and low (Picture: Getty)

The most important piece of advice he gives, above all, is to remain vigilant.

According to Boeing, between 2006 and 2015, 66 per cent of fatal aircraft accidents occurred as the plane was on the ground, during take-off or during final approach and landing.

Thus, it’s important to keep your shoes one during these times and wear appropriate clothing.

Also, take the time to listen to watch the safety video, no matter how many times you’ve seen it, because it could end up saving your life.

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