The brace position: what passengers need to know
September 10, 2018 7:48 PM   Subscribe

It seems absurd that something as simple as changing your sitting posture in a vehicle travelling at up to 1200 km/h groundspeed could make a difference to your odds of surviving a crash, but the results are in. The brace position works, and you will do yourself potentially a very great favour by knowing how and when to adopt it.
posted by paleyellowwithorange (29 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is there room to brace in a typical economy airline seat? I’m not being snarky, I’m just genuinely not sure I would have the clearance to bend in half.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:55 PM on September 10 [19 favorites]


Well, they contradict themselves in the second paragraph. It is unlikely anyone is going to survive a crash at 1200 km/h no matter what you do. So why start with that ridiculous statement.

And their primary example is the twin otter which has a cruising speed of only 270 km/h and much less when climbing or descending.

But the crash position does help in typical low speed crashes -- so carry on.
posted by JackFlash at 8:02 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]


If I understood the article properly, it’s not the folding in half that constitutes the brace, rather it’s the reduction in distance between your head, chest, and legs and the stuff those parts would hit. So bending over to where the top of your head is against the tray would count. Clearance is undesirable because that is space to move.
posted by channaher at 8:11 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]


"But the majority of aircraft accidents happen at much slower speeds, typically well under 200 knots, in landing crashes. At these speeds the brace position has been shown to make a difference."
posted by cubby at 8:13 PM on September 10 [7 favorites]


I've always heard it described as the Lean Over and Kiss Your Ass Goodbye Position...
posted by jim in austin at 8:17 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]


Place hands on top of head
Place arms at sides of lower legs or hold lower legs (holding onto the lower legs may provide a more stable position)


So which is it? Should I place my hands on top of my head or should I hold onto my lower legs? Or is either okay?
posted by litera scripta manet at 8:18 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]


My takeaway from the article is to not fly in a DHC-6 Twin Otter.
posted by edeezy at 8:19 PM on September 10 [8 favorites]


Also, I have no idea what a Twin Otter plane, but after reading this article, I don't ever want to fly in one.
posted by litera scripta manet at 8:20 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]


The safety card generally shows two brace positions - one with your head folded all the way over to your knees, one leaning on the seat in front of you with your arms folded in front of your forehead.

The most harrowing scene in the movie Sully involves the flight attendants repeating the phrase “brace, brace, brace. Head down, stay down.” So if it ever gets to that point on a flight, that’s when you know you may be done for.
posted by mai at 8:34 PM on September 10 [5 favorites]


you just need Denzel at the wheel
posted by thelonius at 8:47 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]


Also, I have no idea what a Twin Otter plane

It's a type of plane that uses two otters for engines, hence the slower cruising speed and more survivable crashes. The newer planes, like your Double Cheetahs and even the really big Quad Cheetahs, those are the ones with the 1200 km/hr cruising speeds. The higher cruising speed is less survivable in a sudden accident, but you can land a Double Cheetah on just one engine as long as the other one hasn't broken loose and eaten the pilot.
posted by compartment at 9:14 PM on September 10 [83 favorites]


I wonder if a chest strap (like a car seatbelt) would work better again.
posted by nnethercote at 9:15 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]


Do not listen to Tyler.
posted by WaterAndPixels at 9:28 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]


How does placing your head against the seat in front of you not open you up to neck injury from slamming forward?
posted by batter_my_heart at 9:29 PM on September 10 [5 favorites]


Is there room to brace in a typical economy airline seat?

FWIW, I’m 5’8”, and I can put my head down and rest it on the tray table. I only fly the cheapest seats. So yes, many people could do this.
posted by greermahoney at 9:55 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]



How does placing your head against the seat in front of you not open you up to neck injury from slamming forward?

Your head is going to end up against it one way or another. Better it does so in a non-ballistic fashion.
posted by agentofselection at 11:11 PM on September 10 [23 favorites]


So here's what I've wondered about, for years -- wouldn't passenger safety be amped way up if all of the seats faced the rear of the airplane/jet? And same in buses, trains, etc. The idea being that you'd just be shoved back against your seat, which would (presumably) be ergonomic and designed to help out if things get left-handed.

I'm always interested in stories of people who have survived, maybe especially the survivals that are against all odds. I think of that young woman in some south American jungle, she was traveling with her mother if memory serves, she came to consciousness still strapped into her seat. ...

I love love love the internet. The young womans name is Juliane Koepcke, she was a high school senior, traveling with her mother on Christmas Eve. This links is to her entry in Wikipedia. (I also love love love Wikipedia, part of my love love love of the internet,)
posted by dancestoblue at 12:01 AM on September 11 [6 favorites]


Wiki says a DHC-6 Twin Otter is "a Canadian 19-passenger STOL (Short Takeoff and Landing) utility aircraft".

If they do have more crashes than other planes, I would bet it's because they are used for weird geographies, weird airports, weird schedules, frequent hops, etc., maybe with less-experienced or second-tier crews who would rather not be on those routes, and the smaller plane might be more susceptible to weather fluctuations a large plane would roll through. Anything that calls for a "short takeoff and landing" plane (and added takeoffs and landings in general) would be a caution flag for me.

Co-pilot: "Caribou on the runway!"
Pilot: "You see a runway!? All I see is Buddy Holly's ghost!"
posted by pracowity at 12:11 AM on September 11 [8 favorites]


jim in austin: "I've always heard it described as the Lean Over and Kiss Your Ass Goodbye Position..."

All right now everybody, get in crash position
posted by chavenet at 1:47 AM on September 11 [3 favorites]


So here's what I've wondered about, for years -- wouldn't passenger safety be amped way up if all of the seats faced the rear of the airplane/jet? And same in buses, trains, etc. The idea being that you'd just be shoved back against your seat, which would (presumably) be ergonomic and designed to help out if things get left-handed.

My understanding from this book is that the answer is yes, facing backwards is safer, at least in planes, but this was only figured out after forward-facing became the convention and it was decided people wouldn't accept the change (I imagine it makes take-off even more disconcerting).
posted by hoyland at 3:25 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]


I wonder if a chest strap (like a car seatbelt) would work better again.

I'd speculate that the reason people bent over in a brace position get less head and chest injuries than those who try to remain upright is that there is a lot of debris suddenly moving through the cabin. The most shielded part of the passenger space is down at the seat cushion, where the arms are. Up around the headrest is more exposed. A chest harness would keep you upright, and open to missiles from the overhead bins or wherever.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:38 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]


I recently watched a BBC documentary about how air crash investigators have applied lessons learned from crashes to improve air safety (Horizon on air safety, on iPlayer), it contained a detail that was new to me and is not contained in the diagrams in that article.

As I remember it, the brace position came about because it was observed that many otherwise survivable crash injuries were caused by body parts flailing about on impact, often resulting in limb fractures (no point in surviving the crash if you can't get away from the fire because of broken arms and ankles). The brace position is intended to minimise this, the UK recommendation at the time specifically included bending your legs back so they were braced under your seat to try and prevent these flying forward and impacting the seat in front. Perhaps this is now deprecated but it seems to make sense.
posted by epo at 3:49 AM on September 11 [4 favorites]


Say your head's in a steel box that's about to slam against a brick wall. The box has some 10 cm of padding on the outside (crumple space), and justa tiny bit of padding on the inside. Call it 1 cm.

If your head starts out on the far side of the box, the box decelerates, then your head slams into the side of the stationary box, and your head decelerates from v_initial to zero in just that 1 cm. You get no benefit from the outer padding on the box. It's quick, and you experience large forces.

If your head is in brace position on the wall side of the box, the box and your head decelerates from v_initial to zero over the entire 10 cm of padding. You get the benefit of the outer padding on the box. It's slow and you experience lower forces.
posted by sebastienbailard at 3:52 AM on September 11 [6 favorites]


Rear facing seats are torturous for some of us. Other than a severe hangover, it's pretty much the only thing that induces airsickness for me. Much of the 6-12 seat GA-specific fleet (think King Air, Pilatus PC-12, TBM, Learjet type stuff) has rear facing seats for space or user preference reasons. Club seating seems to always be appealing to the bosses.

I could deal with it on the Learjet and even the Pilatus because their higher forward speed and longer than average fuselage kept the uncommanded yaw much more under control. In a forward facing seat I don't really care if the plane is flying sideways or upside down, but in a rear facing seat I'm more sensitive than the ball inclinometer on the turn coordinator in the instrument panel.

It's too early to tell the entire story, but suffice it to say that after one particular incident involving a box of 4GB SCSI drives I got first dibs on seat choice afterward. Come to think of it, they sold that King Air literally a couple of weeks after that incident. I'm surprised I was ever allowed on any of the other planes after that, TBH.
posted by wierdo at 3:53 AM on September 11 [7 favorites]


Is there room to brace in a typical economy

That's what I want to know, what with Brexit coming up and all...
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 5:33 AM on September 11 [2 favorites]


I recently did a course in air accident investigation as part of the part-time MSc in forensic engineering and science that I'm putting myself through. One of the guest speakers was Professor Angus Wallace, who was an on-duty orthopaedic surgeon when the Kegworth crash happened, and who did a lot of work subsequently to investigate the injuries that had arisen and to develop an improved brace position to reduce leg flail.

He was asked about shoulder harnesses and rear-facing seats and he explained that researched had shown that they performed better but led to other problems. With a forward-facing seat and lap belt only, on impact the force is transmitted to the seat at the bottom of the seat back, so the lever arm to the seat base is fairly short. If you have shoulder restraints (which, unlike most car shoulder belts, are anchored to the seat, not a cabin wall) then much of the impact force is placed on the top of the seat, and either the seat breaks - especially if it is meant to be adjustable - or the seat base rips out of the floor. The same happens if the seat is facing backwards. You apparently end up needing not just stronger seats but significantly stronger cabin floors, and so far no airline or aircraft manufacturer has adopted this.

Next time you're on a commercial flight, look at where the cabin crew sit for takeoff or landing. Often it will be in a rear-facing seat with a multi-point harness, up against a bulkhead.
posted by Major Clanger at 5:48 AM on September 11 [16 favorites]


If they do have more crashes than other planes, I would bet it's because they are used for weird geographies

Twin Otters are most famously used to get in and out of Antarctica in bad weather. They are extremely versatile, go-anywhere do-anything aircraft.

You apparently end up needing not just stronger seats but significantly stronger cabin floors, and so far no airline or aircraft manufacturer has adopted this.

The AF plane I used to work on had seats for the mission crew that had five-point harnesses and would swivel in to a rear-facing position for takeoff and landing. But, yes, the floor panels were significantly reinforced compared to the civil aircraft it was based off of.

We installed 4-point harnesses in our club planes many years ago - the shoulder harnesses are mounted to structural members in the roof. Of course, that means we could only install them for the front seats; there's nothing strong enough to mount them for the rear seats.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:58 AM on September 11 [6 favorites]


There should be less “slamming” with proper lap belt adjustment. Do note the incorrect head-up position illustrated at the article’s end, the head-down position presumably lines up the spine for compression rather than torsion.
posted by channaher at 6:25 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]


Wiki says a DHC-6 Twin Otter is "a Canadian 19-passenger STOL (Short Takeoff and Landing) utility aircraft".

Like where your fuel gets choppered in. This is a beauty short takeoff on "tundra tires."
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:33 PM on September 24 [1 favorite]


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