Best seat to be sitting in during plane crash

Image from debut episode of Discovery Channel series "Curiosity" shows interior of Boeing 727 scientists purposely crashed to learn where safest place to be is in plane that crashes
Discovery Channel

(CBS News) Every time you fly, you probably think, "Where's the safest place to sit if the plane crashes?"

The first episode of a series debuting Sunday night on the Discovery Channel, called "Curiosity," reports on scientists who tried to answer that question by deliberately crashing a remote-controlled Boeing 727 loaded with sensors and crash test dummies in the desert along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Survivability expert Dr. Thomas Barth, a National Transportation Safety Board investigator, was the lead scientist on the project.

"The airplane had three pilots on board who were also parachutists," he explained to "CBS This Morning: Saturday" co-hosts Rebecca Jarvis and Anthony Mason, "and there was a remote control system. And so the airplane was flown - it was down in Mexico - over to the crash site. And then the three pilots transferred control of the airplane over to a remote control system and they parachuted out, and then a chase airplane that was operating the airplane by remote control crashed it into the desert."

The results, says Barth, were "pretty dramatic. The nose and cockpit buckled under the airplane and was basically run over by the aircraft. The first ten rows of seats were completely destroyed. And the rest of the fuselage remained intact."

To learn where the best place for passengers to be would have been, Barth explained, "We measured the forces as they come up through the aircraft floor and into the seats and the passengers.

"Of course, the first ten rows were completely destroyed, so they would have been non-survivable. The area just behind that but in front of the wing had potential for serious injury but was survivable. And then over the wing, it was moderate injuries and survivable. And then in the back - you would have been fine if you were wearing a seat belt."

Does putting your head between your knees help?

"There hasn't been a lot of research and information about how the brace position really does work. So, we had crash test dummies, one in the brace position and one sitting upright with 32 censors all over their body, measuring all their potential for injury.

"And we found (there was less) injury potential with the crash brace dummy, and the reason is because their body doesn't flail as hard and hit the interior, and (that) lowers their impact injuries."