Plane Crash Survivors Reveal What Kept Them Alive

Nobody plans to be in a plane crash. In fact, most people assume that if they did end up in a crash, they wouldn’t survive. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the National Transportation Safety Board puts the survivability rate of plane crashes at 95.7%. And as numerous plane crash survivors reveal, you can increase your own chances of survival in the unlikely event of an emergency by thinking quickly and preparing adequately.

Read on to discover how to survive a plane crash, based on the advice offered by plane crash survivors, flight attendants, and safety experts.

1. Take it one step at a time

Man enjoying his journey by airplane

Only focus on your next step. | LiudmylaSupynska/iStock/Getty Images

Josh Peltz, who survived the crash landing of US Airways flight 1549 in the Hudson River, told The Guardian that he survived the plane crash by taking it one step at a time. Sitting in the emergency exit row, he began reading the instructions for the door. After the landing, he opened the door and got out. And when a ferry arrived, he helped others onto the boat. “I got through it by taking it one step at a time; figuring out my next 10 seconds of action,” he explained. “Get the door open, throw the door out, figure out if you’re sinking. What is the immediate next thing I need to do? And the next? I just kept on doing that until I reached solid ground.”

Next: Keep this in mind when you choose your outfit. 

2. Use your clothing to protect yourself

airplane passenger using smartphone

Wear clothing that covers as much of your body as possible. | michaeljung/iStock/Getty Images

Upton Rehnberg, who survived the crash landing of United Airlines flight 232 in Iowa, told The Guardian that being properly prepared for a plane crash even involves the clothes you decide to wear. He was wearing a polyester shirt that was melted by a “fireball of burning fuel.” He explains, “Now when I fly, I wear natural fibers. Often I wear a sweatshirt with a hood.” Rehnberg adds, “A man in the burns unit with me was a flight engineer, and he told me that when airline personnel are passengers, they’re taught to cover their head with a blanket in an emergency landing.” Wear clothing that covers up as much of your body as possible so that you’re protected in an emergency situation.

Next: Consider skipping this in-flight indulgence. 

3. Don’t drink alcohol during your flight

toasting with champagne business class airplane cabin

Stay sober and alert. | Tuned_In/iStock/Getty Images

Dayaram Tamrakar, a travel agent who survived a plane crash near Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport in Nepal, would probably tell you that you shouldn’t drink alcohol during your flight. Your doctor might agree, but Tamrakar gives that advice because he thinks that staying alert saved his life. He explains, “I was able to grab on to my seat during the crash, quickly release seat belts, spring up from the seat and have the sense to force open the emergency door because I was alert.”

Next: Timing is critical. 

4. Know when to make your escape

Emergency Exit Row in Airplane

You might not have time to hesitate. | GypsyGraphy/iStock/Getty Images

Tamrakar was able to save himself and other passengers on his flight because he stayed alert and acted quickly. But his story also demonstrates that it’s important that you know when to make your escape. As Travel + Leisure explains, the travel agent assisted other passengers in exiting the aircraft before he decided to jump out himself. He reported, “When someone said there was fire it was time to get off the plane. I jumped and looked back and saw the tail part was already on fire.”

Next: Don’t do this during takeoff or landing. 

5. Avoid sleeping during takeoff and landing

woman resting on airplane

They’re the most likely times for a crash to occur. | michaeljung/iStock/Getty Images

Tamrakar also advises that you avoid sleeping during takeoff and landing, the most likely times for a plane crash to occur. He reports that it’s a good idea to stay awake and alert during those parts of the flight, just in case something goes wrong. But there’s another good reason to avoid sleeping during those parts of your flight, even if there’s no plane crash. The rapid change in pressure can damage your ears if you aren’t awake to yawn, swallow, drink water, or chew gum to equalize the pressure.

Next: Figure this out before you get buckled in.

6. Know where the emergency exit is located

emergency exit door in airplane

Count the rows between you and the exit. | Artfoliophoto/iStock/Getty Images

According to Travel + Leisure, retired United Airlines flight attendant Cheryl Schwartz also shared her advice on surviving a plane crash. Her biggest recommendation is that before you sit down, you take the time to note how many rows away you are from the emergency exit. ” In an emergency situation, visibility may be impaired,” Travel + Leisure explains. “So knowing exactly how to exit the aircraft could speed the evacuation process for everyone.” That applies to every flight, even if you think you’re familiar with the aircraft and its layout.

Next: Know how to do this in case of an emergency. 

7. Figure out how to brace yourself for impact

Woman reading magazine and listening to music on airplane

Know which brace position is best for your seat. | kasto80/iStock/Getty Images

Erwin Tumiri, one of the six people who survived the plane crash of LaMia Flight CP2933 outside the Colombian city of Medellin, reports that he survived by bracing himself for impact. “Many passengers got up from their seats and started yelling. I put the bag between my legs and went into brace position as recommended.” Schwartz recommends that you know which brace position is best for your seat. “For those with another seat in front of them, use that seat back as a brace for which to support your head,” Travel + Leisure advises. “Others can bend over their legs and grab behind their knees for support,” the publication adds.

Next: Think about this the next time you select your seat. 

8. Choose the right seat

Woman using smartphone at airplane

Seats in the rear might fare best. | iStock.com/yuran-78

Alan Ruschel, a soccer player who survived the plane crash outside of Medellin, thinks that changing seats at the request of a colleague saved his life. Club director “Cadu Gaucho asked me to sit further forward and let the journalists sit together at the back,” Ruschel explained, claiming that the switch saved his life. Could he be right? The Huffington Post notes that the safest seats on the plane depend on the type of crash. But a Popular Mechanics analysis showed that passengers near the tail of a plane were 40% more likely to survive a crash than those in the front. And an analysis by Time showed that middle seats in the rear section fared best.

Next: Always do this when you’re seated.

9. Keep your seatbelt fastened

person fastens seat belt while sitting on airplane seat

It’s a good safety practice. | eggeeggjiew/iStock/Getty Images

The Conversation reports that the factors that affect the survivability of a plane crash “are many and varied.” “Unsurvivable” accidents tend to involve either a catastrophic loss of control or an impact at high velocity. And if the crew isn’t aware of a problem, a plane crash can occur at high speed and without passengers being prepared. But the publication explains, “In accidents where a problem has been identified beforehand, the use of seatbelts, fastened tight and low, along with adopting a suitable brace position, is known to have a tangible effect on whether you survive.”

Next: Practice this before the flight takes off. 

10. But know how to release your seatbelt

Male passenger releasing seat belt

Know how to get out quickly if you need to. | Kritchanut/iStock/Getty Images

While safety experts and plane crash survivors alike will tell you to keep your seatbelt fastened, The Guardian also reports that you need to know how to release your seatbelt in an emergency. “A disturbing number of people had difficulty releasing their seat belts, mainly because they were trying to push buttons, as you would in a car,” the publication explains. So when you board the plane and get situated in your seat, practice releasing the seatbelt so it’s second-nature.

Next: Don’t do this if you travel with a small child. 

11. Don’t hold a child or grandchild on your lap

airplane rows

It’s safer for the child to be restrained in a seat. | iStock.com/Digital Vision

Many parents and grandparents opt to save money and hold a small child on their lap when they fly. It sounds like a good idea, but can actually be very dangerous for your child in the event of a plane crash or even something more mundane, like turbulence. Time explains, “The laws of physics have been accepted by experts in the field, and they conclude that unrestrained children face additional risks during turbulence and emergency situations.” Yet as the publication points out, “Untold numbers of parents and caregivers have no idea of the risks.”

Next: Try to do this when you fly with your family. 

12. Seat your family together

Family on airplane

You won’t have to waste time reuniting in an emergency. | iStock/Getty Images

The Guardian has another piece of advice if you’re traveling with children or grandchildren. Try to seat everybody together. “In an emergency, families who are separated will try to reunite before they evacuate, causing havoc,” the publication explains. “Book the seats together or, on a low-cost airline that does not have seat reservations, ask to be moved to sit together.” And even if you can’t all sit together, make a plan to decide who is responsible for each child. That way, you’ll minimize confusion in an emergency situation, plane crash or otherwise.

Next: Remember this when you have to escape. 

13. Leave everything behind

Passenger carrying luggage onto plane

Just go. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In the unlikely event of a plane crash, it’s also important to remember that you should leave everything but your loved ones behind. “Trying to bring any possessions along in an emergency situation can slow down everyone’s exit from the plane,” Travel + Leisure reports. Schwartz explained her perspective: “We have 90 seconds to evacuate 600 passengers or 30 passengers. We have trained and know how to do it, and your carry-on doesn’t fit into the mix.”

Next: Do this in case something happens. 

14. Keep your shoes on

young man waiting for the plane at an airport

Practical footwear is important. | Manuel-F-O/iStock/Getty Images

The Conversation also reports that if you really want to be prepared for a plane crash, “It is worth keeping your shoes on and wearing suitable clothing.” If you need to spring into action to evacuate, you don’t want to scramble to find your footwear or deal with clothing that’s impractical or constricting. Especially if you’re sitting in or near an exit row, you would need to act quickly in the event of a crash to avoid getting crushed by all of the other passengers trying to make their escape.

Next: Always listen to these people if something goes wrong. 

15. Listen to the cabin crew

flight attendant giving safety instruction

The crew is trained in emergencies. | Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

The Conversation also reports that your chances of surviving a plane crash increase if you’re given clear, assertive instructions by the cabin crew (and if you follow those instructions). So in an emergency situation, remember to listen to the cabin crew instead of panicking. And speaking of listening to the cabin crew, The Conversation recommends taking the time to listen to the flight attendants’ safety briefing at the beginning of the flight. “The most likely result is that they will reward you with more attentive service, but if something does go wrong, it may well make all the difference — and even save your life.”

Next: But don’t wait around if nobody is giving instructions. 

16. But take the lead if you have to

Women standing in a plane

Take the lead if no one steps up. | DigitalVision/iStock/Getty Images

While it’s a good idea to follow the cabin crew’s instructions if they tell you what to do, don’t wait if nobody has taken charge. The Guardian reports that many people become passive and obedient in the event of a plane crash. “Panic is extremely rare,” the publication notes. “Psychologists found that this reaction is common in any situation where people are in a passive position before an accident happens. In a plane, you follow orders — you’re not in control. People tend to continue playing that role after a crash.” But in order to survive a plane crash, you may need to take the lead. Particularly if you sit in an exit row, you can save hundreds of lives, but you have to act quickly.

Next: Similarly, don’t wait for this to happen.

17. Don’t wait to be rescued

airplane with passengers on seats waiting to take off

Get to safety as fast as possible. | AwaylGl/iStock/Getty Images

Schwartz’s final piece of advice on surviving a plane crash? Don’t passively wait for someone to rescue you. “Most crashes are survivable,” Schwartz noted. “Yet, with survivable crashes, crash scene investigators find passengers without a scratch on them still belted in their seats, dead.” If you can get out of your seat and evacuate the plane, you should do so. Many plane crash victims die of smoke inhalation or drowning, so don’t sit tight just because you survived the impact.

Read more: Unnerving Things About Airplanes Your Airline Doesn’t Want You to Know

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