Safety advances boost odds of survival in case of plane crash

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Passengers in plane crashes today, such as the one in San Francisco involving Asiana Airlines Flight 214, are more likely to survive than in past disasters.

Saturday's crash was the latest where a big commercial airliner was destroyed but most passengers escaped with their lives. There were plenty of cuts, bruises and broken bones -- and some more severe injuries -- but only 2 of the 307 passengers and crew onboard died.

The odds weren't always in passengers' favor. From 1962 to 1981, 54 percent of people in plane crashes were killed. From 1982 to 2009, that figure improved to 39 percent, according to an Associated Press analysis of National Transportation Safety Board data. Those figures only include crashes with at least one fatality. There have been other serious crashes where everybody survived.

Several advances in aviation technology have made these feats of survival possible. They include:

-- Stronger seats. Today's airplane seats -- and the bolts holding them into the floor -- are designed to withstand forces up to 16 times that of gravity. That prevents rows of seats from pancaking together during a crash, crushing passengers.

-- Fire retardant materials. Carpeting and seat cushions are now made of materials that burn slower, spread flames slower and don't give off noxious and dangerous gases.

-- Improved exits. Doors on planes are much simpler to open and easily swing out of the way, allowing passengers to quickly exit. And planes now come with rows of lights on the floor that change from white to red when an exit is reached.

-- Better training. Flight attendants at many airlines now train in full-size models of planes that fill with smoke during crash simulations.

-- Stronger planes. Aircraft engineers have looked at structural weaknesses from past crashes and reinforced those sections of the plane.

Regulators started mandating such cabin improvements after two deadly aircraft fires in the 1980s.

First, an Air Canada flight made an emergency landing at Cincinnati's airport in 1983 after a fire broke out in the bathroom. The plane landed safely, but half of the 46 passengers and crew died because they couldn't quickly escape the smoke and fire. Two years later, a British Airtours aborted a takeoff in Manchester, England, after an engine fire. Passengers evacuated but not fast enough. Of the 137 people onboard, 54 died after inhaling toxic smoke.

nation


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