Sunday, February 20, 2005

This is something I hope I never have to test!

Improving Your Odds of Walking Away From a Plane CrashThe Wall Street Journal Online By Scott McCartney Airplane accidents evoke a particular kind of dread -- not only are they terrifying, they also often look unsurvivable. But the fact is that a majority of people walk away from even the most fiery crashes. Last month, 11 people survived a corporate-jet crash and fire in Teterboro, N.J., in which the plane skidded across a highway before smashing into a warehouse. Broadly speaking, the numbers are compelling. From 1983 to 2000, the National Transportation Safety Board investigated 26 major commercial accidents involving 2,739 people. A total of 1,525 survived, or 56%. Considerable research has gone into making plane crashes more survivable, which has led to a number of changes. For instance, the now-familiar floor lighting, which is intended to help passengers find the exits if a cabin fills with smoke. Newer airplanes also have stronger seats, designed to stay bolted down against crash forces. More improvements are coming, says David Palmerton, the Federal Aviation Administration's expert on protection and survival. For instance, researchers are looking for fire-blocking materials that could be used in insulation of airplanes that could give passengers precious additional seconds to escape rapidly advancing jet-fuel fires. Partly as a result of improvements like these, surviving a crash isn't necessarily a matter of fate. However, passengers can take a number of steps to increase the odds of walking away unharmed. "The flying public thinks if you're in an accident, you're going to die. So you don't need to know what to do, and don't pay attention to the briefing or read the safety card," Mr. Palmerton says. "Nothing could be further from the truth."
Know the exits in front of you and behind -- and count how many rows away they are.
Brace for impact: Head against seat in front of you. It works.
Leave your luggage. No laptop is worth dying for.
Stay low; breath slowly.
Don't stop to take your shoes off. Slides are tougher these days. The FAA conducts extensive testing at a laboratory in Oklahoma City on airplane seats, evacuation techniques and other important aspects of crash survival. U.S. and British researchers have been examining crashes for years to see what helps get people out of planes that crash with the hull more or less intact, and what hinders evacuation and results in deaths even when travelers survive the impact of a crash. Planes could be a lot safer if we faced backward rather than forward, for example. Sideways seating on corporate-jet couches, by the way, is terrible for crash survival, Mr. Palmerton says, resulting in serious neck injuries.
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