Saturday, every airplane passenger’s worst nightmare occurred in San Francisco. An Asiana Airlines’ Boeing 777, on a flight (214) from Seoul, South Korea, with 307 people on board, crashed at San Francisco International Airport, and the cabin was quickly engulfed with flames, with the tail of the plane sheared off.
Remarkably, 305 passengers and crew survived the crash. A few passengers remain in critical condition at San Francisco area hospitals, but so far, only two passengers and no crew have died.
According to passenger Eugene Rah, a regular on the Seoul–San Francisco route, the flight attendants helped everyone off the plane as smoke filled the cabin, and that soon after, flames spread throughout it.
Airplane crashes are survivable. For example, National Transportation Safety Board statistics of airplane accidents which occurred between 1983 and 2000, report that 53,487 passengers were involved and 51,207 passengers survived. That’s a 95.7 percent survival rate.
I have fifteen tips for air passengers to help you survive an airplane accident:
• Choose your seat to be within five rows of any exit. A British safety expert concluded that five rows is the cut-off for getting out of a burning plane. Beyond that range, survival chances drop off quickly. In addition, passengers in aisle seats have higher survival rates than passengers in other seats.
• Wear shoes or leather sneakers, never high heels, sandals or flip-flops, which make it hard to move quickly and safely within wreckage. Loose or elaborate clothing can snag on obstacles in a plane’s tight quarters, especially when damaged. Long pants and long sleeved shirts made with natural fibers (synthetics or high synthetic content blends can melt on your skin in a fire, causing serious and even fatal wounds) are the safest, and help protect passengers when sliding down a wing or emergency slide. I learned that going down an emergency slide myself, when I suffered friction burn.
• If you’re flying to or from a cold area, dress appropriately, and consider keeping a jacket on your lap during takeoff and landing. In cold weather, crash survival may depend on your staying warm.
• Read the safety information card and pay attention to the preflight safety speech. Every plane is a bit different, so it’s a good idea to refresh your memory.
• Devise a safety plan. Count the rows from your seat to the two closest exits, fore and aft, so you know precisely where they are in case smoke fills the plane, obscuring your sight, and fire blocks your exit in one direction.
• Stay especially alert during and just after takeoff, and from about 10 minutes before and during landing. About 80 percent of accidents occur during those times. Keep your shoes on, don’t put on a face mask, earplugs, or earphones during those times.
• Put your seat belt on and fasten it as tightly as comfortable throughout your flight, not just at takeoff and landing.
If you’re alerted to prepare for a crash, stay calm. After all, the odds are with you.
• Double check your safety plan. Tighten your seat belt as much as possible. Take pencils, pens and sharp objects out of your clothes and remove dentures, high-heeled shoes and eyeglasses. If you have some water, moisten a handkerchief, headrest cover or shirttail, to use if there’s smoke after impact, to hold over your mouth.
• If you’ve got time, and it’s cold outside, put on your sweater or coat. Put any medicines you might need in your pockets. Cover your head if you can, and brace yourself in your seat as per your flight crew’s instructions.
Once down, after the plane comes to a stop, get out as fast as you can.
• Don’t wait to be told what to do by the flight attendants. They might be dazed or injured and can’t give directions for a while, if at all. As soon as the plane comes to a stop move quickly to the exit.
• Don’t take anything with you. Keep your hands free to maintain your balance as you step over debris and luggage, or are being pushed by other passengers, some of whom might be panicking.
• If the aisle is blocked, go over the seat backs.
Under no circumstances crawl on the floor to avoid smoke, as you might be trampled by other passengers.
If there is smoke, keep your head down and follow the white lights to the exit. Use your hands to count rows by feeling seats, but remain on your feet. You’ll know you’ve arrived at the door by your count and/or when the floor lights are red.
• Don’t push passengers. It might incite a hysterical passenger to go berserk, which will delay your exit.
• At the exit door, if it’s not open, before you open it, look out its window to see if there’s fire. If there is, go to the other side of the plane and check the door there.
• Once out of the plane, get as far from the crash as you can. The fuel left in the plane’s tanks could ignite and cause an explosion. If you see something to shield you, get behind it as long as it’s not to close to the plane. When planes explode thousands of fragments can fly in all directions and be fatal.