In a remarkable story that is increasingly common, a 52-year-old man is recovering this weekend after walking away from a burning plane. Fire crews were astonished to see him survive the disaster with only second-degree burns and two broken elbows after his Cessna hit trees in a Cheshire forest. The aircraft was said to have "exploded in flames".
Yet this was not an isolated "miracle". New research shows that more and more people are surviving aeroplane crashes - and luck has very little to do with it. Where you sit, what you do and how carefully you prepare for the worst could save your life. And now the experts want to show us how.
"I always sit within seven seat rows from an exit, and preferably on an exit row itself," says Professor Ed Galea. Professor Galea is one of several experts who have contributed to a BBC2 Horizon programme, "The Survivor's Guide to Plane Crashes", and they have good news. If the worst happens and your holiday flight turns into a smoke-filled disaster, there is a 50 per cent chance that you will survive the crash.
Plane design has improved significantly since the first passengers rattled around in flimsy biplanes, and it shows in the figures. According to the Civil Aviation Authority, between 1950 and 1954 there was one passenger death for every 461,000 passengers carried. Now, that figure is one for about 313 million.
Passengers can significantly increase their chances of surviving by doing some very simple things. One of the most simple of all is also one of the most important: do what you are told. "There is a reason why you are asked to read the safety card every time you fly," says Tom Barth, an aviation researcher in Phoenix, Arizona. It is because there are a variety of brace positions, depending on the kind of seat, and it is very possible that one of them could save your life.
Professor Helen Muir, a passenger behaviour analyst, has some advice for nervous passengers, and it's the most difficult of all to follow, especially in the heart-stopping conditions of a potentially fatal crash. "Resist the instinct to find each other in the event of an emergency," she says. "The best thing you can do is get yourself out as best you can."
Step by step...
1 Sit within seven rows of an exit, and hope a plane crash does not disable it. People who sit there have more chance of surviving.
2 Count the rows you pass when taking your seat. Plan your exit
3 Practise undoing your seat belt. Even pilots can have brainstorms and treat it like a car seat belt.
4 Study the safety card so you can brace yourself properly. It could save your life.
5 Don't take a sleeping tablet or drink too much. You have only 90 secondsto get out.
6 Don't try to find all your friends or family. Leave the plane with those nearest to you.
7 If you land in water do not inflate your lifejacket before leaving the plane. It can trap you inside.
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