It isn’t going fast, but STOPPING FAST, that causes problems!!!
February 6, 2015 8:49 AM   Subscribe

The Science of Survivability (PDF) is a presentation by Anthony T. Brickhouse about maximizing survivability in airplane crashes. It is presented as part of the NOAA Aviation Safety Program, and contains many interesting facts about surviving a plane crash.
posted by blue_beetle (20 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
First thought... why doesn't NOAA have an intern who can make PowerPoint PDFs?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:57 AM on February 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

It isn’t going fast, but STOPPING FAST, that causes problems!!!

I'm not afraid of flying, it's the landing I worry about.
posted by maryr at 9:00 AM on February 6, 2015

This was interesting. I was wondering about the specific injunction to first class travellers to be vigilant? Is it for terrorism? Pleb revolt?

I'm not afraid of flying, it's the landing I worry about.

The crash between two planes leading to the highest number of fatalities is the Tenerife Airport disaster of 1977. All 248 people on a KLM flight were killed during take off (as well as most of those on the Pan Am flight it went into).
posted by biffa at 9:06 AM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

It isn’t going fast, but STOPPING FAST, that causes problems!!!

Guns don't kill people; physics kills people.
posted by hippybear at 9:11 AM on February 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm not afraid of flying, it's the landing I worry about.

Every takeoff is optional. Every landing is compulsory.
posted by quinndexter at 9:32 AM on February 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

Vigilance when flying first class/business

I saw the diagram that showed that I was more likely to survive in coach/steerage -- is that because it's easier to get to multiple exits from there?

Are you mentally strong-optimistic?

posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 10:00 AM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ok, so the extent of the reccomendations for passengers seems to be (1) sit towards the back (2) look for the exits and (3) carry a survival kit. Well, yes, fine, but that's pretty common sense.

There might be some ideas in there for pilots/designers, but it's hard to tell anything past the Timecube-y presentation.
posted by T.D. Strange at 10:09 AM on February 6, 2015

I love the photo on page 38. The two guys booking it just makes my day.
posted by maryr at 10:15 AM on February 6, 2015

I had heard before that you had a better chance at the back but assumed this was to do with hitting the ground first and not something vigilance would help too much with.
posted by biffa at 10:15 AM on February 6, 2015

I think steerage also survives better because in hitting the ground first, the front of the plane crumples and sucks up some of the impact force, so not all of that force is transmitted to those in the cheap seats.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:21 AM on February 6, 2015

I remember an earlier version of this where they pointed out that survivors tended to adopt the crash position with their heads down so they were less likely to be hit by flying debris. Nowadays they no longer mention it as it is a physical impossibility for most people.
posted by srboisvert at 10:25 AM on February 6, 2015

I fly 3-5 times a month. I'm not afraid of flying. I'm afraid of the idiots ahead of me in the security lines who can't figure out how to empty their pockets. What if I'm dependent on them to figure out how to exit the airplane quickly enough so that everyone else behind them have time get out before we die of smoke inhalation? (I'm only half-kidding.)

One thing it only kind of touched on - and it seemed more specific to small aircraft - is getting out of restraints. I've been certified and trained in a number of emergency egress situations in various craft, my favorite being helicopter underwater egress training [warning: music from Evanescence], which culminates in exiting a life size helicopter model that's been dropped and spun upside down in a swimming pool. While I don't know the rates of pass/fail in this kind of training, someone almost always fails for the same reason: they forget to take off their restraint. Then panic sets in and they flail around trying desperately to get out of their seat, eating away precious moments of time for survival.

There's a lot of reasons why someone might not exit an aircraft in a "timely manner" ranging from injury/unconsciousness to being upside down to an idiot in front of them who decided to grab their carry-on, and when you see rows of people in the same area having died that way it's easy to surmise a group affecting reason (if it's not obvious). But having seen it time and time again in simulations, I often wonder how often people die from smoke inhalation/fire due to the simple, but ultimately time consuming, moment of forgetting to unbuckle their seat belt.
posted by barchan at 10:29 AM on February 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

Calm as Hindu cows.
posted by resurrexit at 10:37 AM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I know someone whose parents are/were air crash investigators for one of the federal alphabet soup agencies. Something my friend told me about crash survival based on the investigations that his parents had done wasn't mentioned in the presentation: the one thing you can do that will increase your personal chances of making it out of a survivable crash is to wear non-slip-on shoes (e.g., shoes with laces). The reason for this is that if the crash is survivable, you need to be able to exit the plane immediately. If you're wearing slip-on shoes, they may come off in the crash. You're much more likely to have problems with broken glass/hot metal/etc. which slows you down or injures you if you're barefoot, so keeping your shoes on is vital.

Of course, people don't want to wear lace-on shoes if they're going to have to take off their shoes for the TSA.
posted by immlass at 10:39 AM on February 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

I assumed the Survival Kit was for pilots, particularly those in small planes. More Hatchet than Alive.
posted by maryr at 11:32 AM on February 6, 2015

That's why I always raise my eyebrows at airline attendants in any kind of heel, immlass. But then I'm a weirdo that also feels that if airlines/government (in the U.S. at least) were serious about safety, they wouldn't allow so much cotton/nylon/rayon/polyester blend type of clothing for uniforms on the people who are going to be the number one resource in an emergency situation. Less thin cotton, more wools! I want to shout. More closed weaves! More silk! No rayon! And geez, no rayon underwear! If you must have synthetics, make it 100%! No blends! No acetate glasses! No short-sleeves! Requiring fire retardant clothing is a bit too much, but less open weave material doesn't seem like a lot to ask. I mean...they require seats to have certain flammability ratings, but not uniforms? (Although I've learned some airlines do have standards in their union contracts.)

But pushing the call button or writing a letter of complaint about how flammable and melt-able the uniform clothing is compared to more natural fabrics isn't going to work at all. So instead of asking the attendant why she's wearing pantyhose that will just melt on her legs in a potential high heat/fireball sweeps through the cabin kind of situation I just pull up my knee length wool socks and quietly read my in-flight magazine article about vineyards in Nebraska.

I admit I fly too much and spend wayyyyyyy too much time thinking about this kind of thing though.
posted by barchan at 11:35 AM on February 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

First thought: for maximum safety, sit behind a guy named Brickhouse.
posted by miyabo at 1:37 PM on February 6, 2015

Or a gal. She's mighty mighty, just letting it all hang out. The lady's stacked and that's a fact, ain't holding nothing back. She's the one, the only one, who's built like an Amazon.
posted by maryr at 2:41 PM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am putting an emergency kit in my flight bag as soon as I get home.

I think about this stuff a lot, both as a pilot and an engineer working on larger airplanes. There's verification work that we sometimes hand wave away, but I'm always insistent on safety requirements including crash accelerations and explosive atmosphere. You really don't want parts of the plane coming loose during a crash or igniting a fire.

As a pilot, I do take a lot of the precautions mentioned in the presentation. I file flight plans, stay current, and keep an eye out for potential off-airport landing sites. We installed four point harnesses in both our club planes. And yet there are always minor things that will get you, I guess - I fly with an iPad resting on my lap and I'm sure it'll do some damage in an accident. I'm also very hesitant to bring new passengers in our 206 because the exits are really bad - only one door for the pilots' seats, and if the flaps are down the rear clamshell door doesn't open all the way. It takes some experience to know how to deal with both of those things and if someone's panicking in the back there's no way for me to help them in an emergency.

Those emergency briefings in the plane can be boring, but I give one every time I fly with someone. If you fly with me, I will tell you what to do in an accident - how to open the door, walk along the wing away from the plane (not towards the prop!), where the emergency gear is. I will make you try the door so you know how to open it. It's not difficult stuff, but panic is a quick way to trouble.

General aviation has historically had a problem with pilot experience, especially recent experience. A lot of GA pilots fly once or twice a month, or less - it's difficult to stay current like that. I think there's also a certain machismo problem that prevents pilots from asking for help in the form of recurring training or even having a flight instructor ride along while you do takeoffs and landings. Couple that with get-there-itis and even a minor incident can quickly spiral out of control. Know your limits, ask for help, and listen to your gut when it sounds worried.
posted by backseatpilot at 3:22 PM on February 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

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