20120415 - Survive a plane crash

[<Normal page] [PEREZGONZALEZ Jose D (2009). Survive a plane crash. Aeroscience (ISSN 2324-4399), 2012, pages 25-27.]

An air disaster does not necessarily mean certain death. In fact, you may have great chances of surviving. Thus, it is always good to know some tips that will increase your chances further (Bryant, undated1).

How to survive an airplane crash, by Howcast Media2 (video embedded from YouTube on 26 August 2009)

Things to do before you board the plane

  • Wear clothing that protects you.

Glass, metal, luggage, the elements, are going to hit you in a disaster. Thus, wearing appropriate clothing (long trousers, long sleeves, closed-toed shoes, etc) may help protect your skin from bruises and cuts.

  • Plan with your family what to do in case of an emergency.

This is especially important if you travel with children. Divide the responsibility for helping your children between you and your partner. It is easier to act when you know what to do than trying to improvise in situ and help everyone at the same time.

Things to do onboard the plane

  • Find the closest exits and estimate their distance from your seat.

Count the rows of seats between your seat and the closest exit or exits. If a disaster strikes and you are unable to see the exits because of darkness, smoke or the elements, you can feel the seats and count them until you reach the exit.

  • Pay attention to preflight instructions.

Familiarize yourself with the aircraft you are in, and revise the safety information for that aircraft even if you believe you know it.

  • Don't drink alcohol.

Alcohol will slow your response time and cloud your judgment.

  • Put your oxygen mask on first.

If the oxygen masks drop, put yours on first, then help others. Otherwise, you may fall unconscious, thus becoming unable to help anyone.

Things to do when an emergency strikes

  • Get ready for impact.

Adopt the official crash position for your seat and aircraft.

  • Remain calm.

This will allow you to think and act quickly. For example, it may allow you to remember that plane seatbelts have a pull-release button, not a push-button.

  • Abandon your carry-on luggage.

Never attempt to take your carry-on luggage: it will slow you down and endanger others.

  • Never inflate your life vest inside the plane.

An inflated life vest will restrict your movements. It will also make you float towards the ceiling if the aircraft sinks in water, thus preventing you from escaping.

  • Stay low if there is a fire.

Smoke and fumes are highly toxic and more likely to kill you than flames. Smoke will tend to rise towards the ceiling of the aircraft, thus stay as low as possible. Moving while crouching is faster than crawling, and will prevent being stepped over by other passengers.

1. BRYANT Charles W (undated). How to survive a plane crash. Retrieved from Howstuffworks on 17 December 2008.
2. HOWCAST MEDIA (undated). How to survive an airplane crash. Howcast Media (New York, USA), 2009. Retrieved from YouTube on 26 August 2009.

Want to know more?

AviationKnowledge - A survivor's guide to plane crashes
Watch a documentary on scientific research on airplane survivability.
HowStuffWorks - How to survive a plane crash
This HowStuffWorks page offers further information on above tips.


Jose D PEREZGONZALEZ (2009). School of Aviation, Massey University, New Zealand (JDPerezgonzalezJDPerezgonzalez).


Amber WAN (2010). School of Aviation, Massey University, New Zealand (Amber WanAmber Wan).
Nicholas ASHLEY (2010). School of Aviation, Massey University, New Zealand (NickAshleyNickAshley).

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License