How to Survive a Plane Crash (Non-survival also a possibility)


I’m travelling to China in the morning, on some university work in Hong Kong and Shantou. It takes two days to travel between here and there, and I’ll be away for 8 days. So yes, I’ll be spending half my time in transit. I’ve been doing some preparatory reading. Here’s a nice piece from today’s Huffington Post: How to Survive a Plane Crash.”

Essentially, the steps are easy to follow:

1. Keep Your Shoes and Socks On

For fear that you might need to “run over sharp debris and fire” no less. Running over fire? Doesn’t sound good.

2. Practice Unbuckling Your Seat Belt

Because “in an emergency, you may panic and forget how.” I always forget to remember to practice, so I guess I’m likely to forget how to do this. The second leg’s an eleven-hour flight. I think I’ll practice every 10 minutes, just to be sure.

3. Have a Plan (and a Plan B)

This sounds a little more obtuse, although I recognise it as sound from an emotion-focused coping perspective. HuffPo are a bit vague regarding what either plan might look like, however.

4. Don’t Wait for Instructions in a Catastrophe

Hmmm. Does this sound right? Basically, they want you to just evacuate the hell out of there, head-butting air stewards out of the way if necessary.

5. Use the Correct Brace Position

This is actually quite convoluted. For one thing, a correct brace position requires you to keep your seatbelt fastened, so all that practice with unbuckling is essentially in vain.  And, for another thing, the correctness of your bracing position depends on whether or not you are American:

The position varies slightly in the US. Rather than placing hands on the back of the head, passengers are advised to place them on top of the seat in front, or to hold their ankles.

That’s according to a guy writing for the Telegraph. A guy called Steve Allright. (You know, as in: the guy’s Allright.)

6. Ditch Your Belongings

Except the phone. The phone’s a keeper.

The precious time you spend trying to grab your carry-on or purse could make the difference between life and death — and no item is worth that.

But maybe the phone just is.

7. Wear the Right Clothing

And if you’re not wearing the right clothing, change your clothes.

8. Stay Alert During These 11 Minutes

Apparently, some guy called Ben is claiming that there are 11 critical minutes: Three minutes after take-off, and eight before landing. How it is you’re supposed to know the moment exactly eight minutes ahead of touching down is unclear. But it doesn’t matter. Because it’s pseudoscience.

9. Sit in an Aisle Seat Within Five Rows of an Exit

More pseudoscience. Presumably sitting close to the exit is a factor in determining how quickly you get the hell off the plane. But a critical point between five rows and more than five rows? What’s the safety margin on this threshold?

10. Get Away from the Wreckage (but Not Too Far)

This last one pre-supposes that you have, in fact, already survived the crash. So indeed, get away from the wreckage. In other words, survive.

And conveniently for our decimal culture, there are just 10 steps involved in surviving a plane crash.

Apparently, some 1 in every 1.2 million flights ends with a crash, and — amazingly — some 95.7% of people involved in plane crashes actually survive. Of course that doesn’t mean that 95.7% of people on a single crashed plane will survive. Most probably if some folks do survive, everyone will. But even in the most serious crashes, an average of 76% will walk away alive.

So the overall arithmetic probability of dying in a plane crash, after stepping on the plane, is around 3.583 x 10-8 (i.e., 0.043 x 1/1200000), equivalent to odds of 1 in 27.6 million. Of course, I’m not controlling for your choice of plane, carrier, journey time, destination, or intoxication of pilot, or the otherwise oft-quoted odds of 1 in 11 million, but these are presumably marginal concerns. So, basically, you’re grand.

No need to memorise that list then.

How to avoid being killed in a plane crash? Just get on the plane, get off the plane, and go live your life.

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