Surviving a Commercial Aircraft Accident

From: (Niels Ejvind Andersen)
Organization: Wilfrid Laurier University
Date:         20 Dec 92 16:07:59 CST
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I attended the Toronto Transport Canada Aviation Safety Seminar last night.
One of the topics was "Surviving a Commercial Aviation Accident", and it
was interesting enough that I'll post it here.

Please bear in mind that flying is extremely safe.  These comments are
intended as *risk management*.  In the very remote possibility that your
aircraft has an accident, and your survival depends on your knowledge of
the aircraft exits and safety systems, do the smart thing, and learn them.

According to a survey of airline passengers, the commonly held opinion is
that 75% of commercial aircraft accidents have one or more fatalities.  In
reality, only 15% of such accidents have fatalities.  The belief in an
inflated death rate is a result of media concentration on accidents with

Pay attention to the safety briefing given by the cabin attendants at the
beginning of the flight.  Read the pamphlet that describes the aircraft
exits and safety systems such as oxygen masks and life vests (life vests
are difficult to put on, and it is important that you understand).  Make
sure your family pays attention.  Explain the items to your family, if
need be.  Take note of which passengers between you and your exit don't
pay attention to the safety briefing -- these people won't know what to do
after an accident, and they may well keep you and your family from getting
out safely as well. 

The rules follow, but first, remember that flying is the safest mode of
transportation available to you.  ENJOY YOUR FLIGHT.

Six Rules for Surviving a Commercial Aviation Accident (as a passenger). 

1.  Bring a coat that won't burn or melt, and wear it both during takeoff
    and during landing.

2.  Wear flat shoes.  Don't remove them until after takeoff, and put them
    back on for the landing.

3.  Make sure your seatbelt is snug, and not too high on your hips, during
    the takeoff and the landing.

4.  Know what brace position you need to get into for a crash (this should
    be the position your body will end up in after the deceleration, if
    you were sitting upright).  With a 1.5G or 2G deceleration in the forward
    direction, your head, arms and legs will strike the seat in front of
    you.  If an accident is imminent, get into the brace position immediately.
    Don't wait for "brace" instructions from the crew.  The brace position
    will minimize your risk of injury.

5.  Know where the nearest exits are.  Get an aisle seat within three rows
    of an emergency exit, and note the position of the next nearest exit as
    well (your alternate exit).  Count the number of seats between you and
    your exit, as well as the number of seats between you and your alternate
    exit.  Make sure you know where the nearest exits are, because if there
    is a post-crash fire, the signs and lights above the exits will be
    obscured by dense smoke. [I have difficulty with this rule -- I like
    to sit by a window -- if I wanted an aisle seat, I'd go see a movie
    at our local theatre!]

6.  Know how to open the exit doors.

After a crash, get to an exit as quickly as you can, any way you can. 
Remember to release your seat belt first.  Climb over the seats, if you
have to.  Leave all your possessions behind; some items will have sharp
protrusions that can puncture the escape slide, and any item you carry
will slow down your progress.  The cabin attendants will confiscate
any possession you are carrying anyway, as you pass by them on your way
out the exit.

Smoke and fumes kill more people than the impact forces, so it is
extremely important to evacuate the aircraft as quickly as possible; you
may only have a few seconds.  The smoke tends to form in layers, with the
most toxic and thick layers near the ceiling.  Stay down low, in crouch
position, as you make your way to the exit.  Try to keep on your feet,
but crawl if necessary.

Once outside the aircraft, get well clear, preferably upwind.

If the aircraft has ditched, don't inflate your life vest until you are
outside the aircraft.  If the water is cold, try to climb up onto a 
piece of floating debris, to get out of the water.  Move around as little
as possible in the water, to conserve your body heat.
Niels Ejvind Andersen     [ /]
Information Systems, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, ON  N2L 3C5 Canada
                                                                  ... VFR NC4