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How To Survive A Plane Crash

You're in a plummeting plane, or behind the wheel of a careening car whose brakes have failed. What can you do? Read on.

Below are some strategies, taken from "The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Travel" (Chronicle Books), the second in the series of wildly successful survival books. Authors Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht have asked experts to describe what they would do on a range of terrifying problems, from scorpion stings to runaway trains.


To Decrease The Odds Of A Crash

1. Take a nonstop flight, if possible.
Most accidents happen in the takeoff and landing phases of flight; the fewer stops you make, the less chance of an accident.

2. Watch the skies.
Many accidents involve severe weather. As takeoff time approaches, check the weather along the route, particularly in places where you will land. Consider delaying your flight if the weather could be severe.

3. Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants made of natural fibers.
Radiant heat and flash burns can be avoided if you put a barrier between you and the heat. Avoid easy-care polyester and nylon: most synthetic materials that aren’t specifically treated to be fire resistant will melt at relatively low temperatures (300 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit). Synthetic fabrics will usually shrink before they melt, and if they are in contact with skin when this happens, they will make the burn – and its treatment - much more serious. Wear closed-toe, hard soled shoes; you might have to walk through twisted, torn metal or flames. In many cases, people survive the crash, but are killed or injured by post-impact fire and its by-products, like smoke and toxic gases.

4. Select a seat on the aisle, somewhere in the rear half of the cabin.
The odds of surviving a crash are higher in the middle-to-rear section compared to the middle-to-front section of the cabin. An aisle seat offers the easiest escape route access, unless you are sitting right next to an emergency exit: If you can get a window seat right next to an emergency exit, this is a better choice.

5. Listen to the safety briefing and locate your nearest exits.
Most airplane accident survivors had listened to the briefing and knew how to get out of the plane. Pick an exit to use in case of emergency, and an alternate in case the first one is not available.

6. Count the seats between you and the exits in case smoke fills the plane and you cannot see them.
Make sure you understand how the exit doors work and how to operate them.

7. Practice opening your seat belt a few times.
Many people mistakenly try to push the center of the buckle rather than pull up on it.

To Prepare For The Crash.

1. Make sure that your seat belt is tightly fastened and that your chair back is fully upright.

2. Bend forward with one arm across your knee.

3. Placyour pillow in your lap and hold your head against the pillow with your free arm.

4. Push your legs forward and brace for impact by placing your feet or knees against the chair in front of you.
If you are over water, loosen your shirt (and tie) so that your movement is not restricted when you attempt to swim. Be ready for two jolts: when the plane hits the water and when the nose hits water again.

5. Stay calm and be ready to help yourself.
The vast majority of crash survivors were able to get out either under their own power or with the help of someone already on the plane. Fire and rescue personnel are unlikely to enter the airplane to pull you out.

6. Do not take anything with you.
If you have something you absolutely cannot part with, you should keep it in your pocket and not in your carry-on baggage.

Warning Tips
The authors say: “All the information in this book comes directly from experts in the situation at hand, but we do not guarantee that the information contained herein is complete, safe, or accurate, nor should it be considered a substitute for your good judgement and common sense.”
7. Stay low if the plane is on fire.
Follow the exit procedures described in the safety briefing. Illuminated floor lights should indicate the exits: the lights are red where the exits rows exist.


1. Begin pumping the brake pedal and keep pumping it.
You may be able to build up enough pressure in the braking system to slow down a bit, or even stop completely. If you have anti-lock brakes, you do not normally pump them – but if your brakes have failed, this may work.

2. Do not panic - relax and steer the car smoothly.
Cars will often safely corner at speeds much higher than you realize or are used to driving. The rear of the car may slip; steer evenly, being careful not to overcorrect.

3. Shift the car into the lowest gear possible and let the engine and transmission slow you down.

4. Pull the emergency brake - but not too hard.
Pulling too hard on the emergency brake will cause the rear wheels to lock, and the car to spin around. Use even, constant pressure. In most cars, the emergency brake (also known as the hand brake or parking brake) is cable operated and serves a a fail safe brake that should still work, even when the rest of the braking system has failed. The car should slow down and, in combination with the lower gear, will eventually stop.

5. If you are running out of room, try a "bootlegger's turn."
Yank the emergency brake hard while turning the wheel a quarter turn in either direction – whichever is safer. This will make the car spin 180 degrees. If you were heading downhill, this spin will head you back uphill, allowing you to slow down.

6. If you have room, swerve the car back and forth across the road.
Making hard turns at each side of the road will decrease your speed even more.

7. If you come up behind another car, use it to help you stop.
Blow your horn, flash your lights, and try to get the driver's attention. If you hit the car, be sure to hit it square, bumper to bumper, so you do not knock the other car off the road. This is an extremely dangerous maneuver: It works best if the vehicle in front of you is larger than yours - a bus or truck is ideal - and if both vehicles are traveling at similar speeds. You do not want to crash into a much slower-moving or stopped vehicle, however.

8. Look for something to help stop you.
A flat or uphill road that intersects with the road you are on, a field, or a fence will slow you further but not stop you suddenly. Scraping the side of your car against a guardrail is another option. Avoid trees and wooden telephone poles: They do not yield as readily.

9. Do not attempt to sideswipe oncoming cars.

10. If none of the above steps has enabled you to stop and you are about to go over a cliff, try to hit something that will slow you down before you go over.
This strategy will also leave a clue for others that someone has gone over the edge. But since very few cliffs are sheer drops, you may fall several feet and then stop.

© MMI Viacom Internet Services Inc. All Rights Reserved. Excerpted with permission from the publisher, Chronicle Books, "The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Travel," published in 2001

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