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Safest Seat on a Plane, Or How to Survive a Crash 454

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the law-of-averages dept.
Ant writes "Popular Mechanics shares a short article on an exclusive look at 36 years' worth of National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reports and seating charts to determine the best way to live through a disaster in the sky. Move to the back of the Airbus."
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Safest Seat on a Plane, Or How to Survive a Crash

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 21, 2007 @12:39PM (#19938691)
    you're by the bathrooms and you can watch any hottie walk back to her seat.
  • by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Saturday July 21, 2007 @12:43PM (#19938721) Homepage Journal
    it's that if your time has come there's nothing you can do.

    Which is good, cause it fits in nicely with a bit of wisdom that a lot of people should take to heart:

    don't worry about stuff you have no control over.

    • by Deadstick (535032) on Saturday July 21, 2007 @01:12PM (#19938949)
      Yeah, well, if your airplane gets in trouble you'd better hope the pilot doesn't believe that.

      rj
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by qazsedcft (911254)
        But the pilot does have control over the plane.

        Now back to the actual point. The GP wrote "if your time has come". This outcome is not determinable in advance. If you die in a crash then your time has come. If you survive then your time has not come. This is kind of like Schrodinger's cat.
    • by HalAtWork (926717)
      But what if you could have prevented the circumstances had you worried enough, thus becoming more aware and thus more able to influence your surroundings? You're more likely to survive, and isn't that bit of likeliness worth it when it comes to your life?

      Trust me, I don't want to worry about anything, but I'm too worried not to.

      Infinite loop head explode.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by SRA8 (859587)
      >> don't worry about stuff you have no control over.

      Which is exactly the point of this article -- you DO have some control over survival!
    • don't worry about stuff you have no control over

      Usually when I fly I'm in the pilot's seat. Is this:

      (1) good because I have control, or:
      (2) bad because having control means I should worry?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 21, 2007 @12:43PM (#19938723)
    Rarely does an airplane back into the side of a mountain.
    • by kryten_nl (863119) on Saturday July 21, 2007 @12:47PM (#19938743)

      Rarely does an airplane back into the side of a mountain.
      Because the mountains move aside when they hear that beeping sound and see the flashing lights?
    • ROTFLMAO!

      My dad told me that 20 years ago!
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by rossdee (243626)
      If the pilot realises the mountain is there in the last few seconds and tries to put the plane in a steep climb (thus raising the nose) it is possible for the bottom rear of the plane to hit the ground first.

      Its not just a theory, it did happen this way for flight 901 in 1979. There were no survivors, all 257 passengers and crew died in the initial impact (with Mount Erebus) and fireball.
  • What are the odds? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by slughead (592713) on Saturday July 21, 2007 @12:45PM (#19938733) Homepage Journal
    The odds of dying in a plane crash are 1 in 5,051 in your whole lifetime. To give you some perspective, you're 5 times more likely to drown, 23 times more likely to fall to your death, and 60 times more likely to die in a car accident.

    Therefore, a far more useful article would be "How to survive driving off a seaside cliff into the ocean."
    • by nerdonamotorcycle (710980) on Saturday July 21, 2007 @12:46PM (#19938737)
      Indeed. You're way more likely to die as a result of the cab ride to the airport.
    • by kryten_nl (863119) on Saturday July 21, 2007 @12:51PM (#19938785)

      Therefore, a far more useful article would be "How to survive driving off a seaside cliff into the ocean."

      Install wings on your car?
    • I thought it was established that the intial crash kills few people, but tends to fracture alot of legs, then everyone dies in the resulting fire because they can't get out. So maybe a better article would be "How to get out of a burning plane when you have two broken legs." Of course I get all my science from MythBusters:http://kwc.org/mythbusters/2005/06/my t hbusters_killer_brace_posit.html [kwc.org]
      • by Dunbal (464142) on Saturday July 21, 2007 @01:11PM (#19938945)
        Aortic dissection. This is what kills you. It's the most common, lethal deceleration injury. Of course if you're going fast enough you're simply crushed, but at "lower" speeds a sudden deceleration is enough to rotate the heart (which is fairly mobile in the chest) and rip it off the aorta (which is fixed to the posterior chest wall). The arteriovenous ligament doesn't help, either. So the aorta ruptures and you die of a cardiac tamponade. Oh and this is how Princess Diana died.
        • by tomhudson (43916) <barbara@hudson.barbara-hudson@com> on Saturday July 21, 2007 @01:53PM (#19939291) Journal

          "Aortic dissection. This is what kills you. It's the most common, lethal deceleration injury. Of course if you're going fast enough you're simply crushed, but at "lower" speeds a sudden deceleration is enough to rotate the heart (which is fairly mobile in the chest) and rip it off the aorta (which is fixed to the posterior chest wall). The arteriovenous ligament doesn't help, either. So the aorta ruptures and you die of a cardiac tamponade. Oh and this is how Princess Diana died."

          They wanted to install seats facing backwards in airplanes specifically to reduce the deaths from the initial crash. Howver, they determined that the flying public wouldn't accept rear-facing seats. Considering all the BS the flying public puts up with nowadyas, maybe its time to float the idea again.

          Oh, another Princess Di joke - "I heard Princess Di was on the radio... And the dash. And the seat ..."

        • by Poromenos1 (830658) on Saturday July 21, 2007 @04:30PM (#19940545) Homepage
          That does it. I'm getting my heart nailed in place!
        • by nbauman (624611) on Saturday July 21, 2007 @05:02PM (#19940769) Homepage Journal

          Aortic dissection. This is what kills you. It's the most common, lethal deceleration injury. Of course if you're going fast enough you're simply crushed, but at "lower" speeds a sudden deceleration is enough to rotate the heart (which is fairly mobile in the chest) and rip it off the aorta (which is fixed to the posterior chest wall). The arteriovenous ligament doesn't help, either. So the aorta ruptures and you die of a cardiac tamponade. Oh and this is how Princess Diana died.

          That's a good story. I wonder if it's true.

          By a strange coincidence (only on Slashdot), I just went to a conference on aortic surgery. And I used to edit the Stapp Car Crash Conference Proceedings in the 1970s (great series) and I remember at least one article on aortic damage.

          Bottom line: Most of the aortic damage in automobile collisions occurs to people who weren't wearing their seat belts. Those lap and shoulder belts (which the U.S. auto companies refused to install until 1967) really work well. You can thank Ralph Nader for saving about 25,000 lives a year. The auto companies also made steering columns that were positioned exactly right and strong enough to impale the driver's chest, often with a heart puncture. Thanks to Ralph Nader, they replaced them with a collapsable steering column around 1967.

          Let's see the latest stuff, um, http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/332/6/356 [nejm.org] Smith MD et al, Transesophageal Echocardiography in the Diagnosis of Traumatic Rupture of the Aorta, N Engl J Med 1995 332:356-362. (Well worth reading; great X-rays.) 7 were not restrained, 2 were. Smith says:

          Blunt chest trauma commonly results from motor vehicle accidents in which the sternum of an unrestrained driver strikes the steering wheel at impact.5 Rupture of the aorta has been estimated to account for up to 18 percent of deaths in motor vehicle accidents.19 As a result of rapid deceleration of the thorax and compression of the diaphragm, the aorta is subjected to extreme torque and compression at points of attachment: the sinuses of Valsalva, the isthmus, and the diaphragm.20 With compression of the mediastinum, the heart may be displaced into the right or left side of the chest, producing further stress at these points. The severe aortic-wall stress from intraluminal hypertension results in rupture through the intima, often continuing into the media and adventitial layers. Complete rupture usually results in death at the scene, whereas patients with a contained hematoma may survive to reach the hospital.

          Whaddya know, the poster has a point. Aortic trauma is still a major cause of automobile fatalties, usually but not always when people aren't wearing seat belts (Diana wasn't).

          But wait, Smith also says,

          Thirteen patients (14.0 percent) ultimately died during hospitalization as a result of associated injuries, but no deaths were related to aortic injury (Table 1). The four deaths in the group with aortic injury were due to multiorgan-system failure (two patients), acute myocardial infarction (one patient), and hemorrhage from pelvic fracture (one patient).

          I forget how to do the equations, but as I recall when a car collides against a solid barrier at 50mph, it has about 50 inches of crush space in which to come to a halt, and that comes to about 50g, which everybody told me is survivable. (One of you young whippersnappers can check my numbers.) John Paul Stapp tested it himself on his rocket sled and lived. But if you subjected 100 people to 50g, I don't know how many of them would get aortic rupture.

          The other major cause of death (mostly to people who aren't wearing seat belts) is head injury. Thanks to Ralph Nader, those windshields are carefully designed with plastic laminate that has just the right elasticity to bring a passenger's head to a stop with low enough force to avoid breaking his

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            That's interesting about Nader -- I did see a book about this once, but didn't read it. If this event and 9/11 had happened around the same time, Nader would have been laughed at compared to The Evils of Terrorism. While 3000 people dying in one year is a tragedy that would be great to avoid, obviously, 25,000 a year is a greater tragedy, yet undoubtedly, out of many who don't make their kids wear a seatbelt, some probably think the dangers of terrorism are so great that they support war to stop it.

            It reall
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by nbauman (624611)

              That's interesting about Nader -- I did see a book about this once, but didn't read it.

              That's probably Unsafe at Any Speed. Even though it was published in 1965, it's still a great book about how automotive engineering failed -- the engineers did a great job of figuring out how to save lives, but the politicians and corporate owners brushed them aside for reasons that I still can't understand.

              Every engineer should read this book. (The Wikipedia entry sucks BTW.)

              If this event and 9/11 had happened around the same time, Nader would have been laughed at compared to The Evils of Terrorism. While 3000 people dying in one year is a tragedy that would be great to avoid, obviously, 25,000 a year is a greater tragedy

              Thomas Schelling, the Nobel laureate in economics, said that 9/11 is three months of auto fatalities, and more people die eve

        • by Alsee (515537) on Saturday July 21, 2007 @06:15PM (#19941303) Homepage
          the aorta ruptures and you die of a cardiac tamponade

          Speaking as a guy, tamponade sounds like a really embarrassing way to die.

          -
    • by QuantumG (50515)
      Most people feel this is reassuring. Whenever I hear it I think "man, what a complete waste of money they spend on safety.. no wonder ticket prices are so high."

      I'm willing to get in a car. I'm willing to accept a certain amount of risk.. Why is it when it comes to air travel I don't have the option to accept the same amount of risk as I'm obviously willing to accept? That's a rhetorical question; I know the answer.. government regulations. The real question is, why are government regulations so much m
      • by Deadstick (535032) on Saturday July 21, 2007 @01:16PM (#19938991)
        Because if we flew airplanes like most people drive cars, we'd die like flies.

        rj
    • by ewg (158266)
      It's also worth reflecting on the leading causes of death in the USA as reported by the CDC: accidents of all kinds are only in the middle of the list.

      http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/lcod.htm [cdc.gov]
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by jointm1k (591234)

      . . . and 60 times more likely to die in a car accident.

      That's only because the average human does a whole lot less traveling by plane than he does by car.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Ossifer (703813)
        It's all about skewing the data to make whatever point you feel like. Actually, cars are still more dangerous per passenger mile. However airplane flights are generally only dangerous at take off and landing. I.e. airline flights are equally dangerous regardless of distance, whereas car accidents are more likely the longer the trip. But then we know that most car accidents occur close to home... but then most car trips are short ones close to home... etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum...
    • by dkleinsc (563838) on Saturday July 21, 2007 @01:05PM (#19938881) Homepage
      I tend to view the issue with plane crashes (and terrorism, which is even more ridiculously unlikely) is the loss of control. With cars, if you're driving, you feel like you're in control of the vehicle, and by extension the situation, and thus feel safer. Even if you have a friend driving, you now have someone you (probably) trust in control of the situation.

      By contrast, in a plane, you're totally at the mercy of the pilots and air traffic controllers. You don't know them, and you know that if they screw up there's pretty close to nothing you can do about it. So even if the risk is actually less, it appears to be greater, because you are giving up control over whether you live or die.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Tribbin (565963)
      Because that would be boring:

      - Don't drive while drunk
      - Don't drive while tired
      - Don't call while driving
      - Don't verbally fight while driving
      - Don't speed
      - Fasten seatbelts
      - No sex while driving

      Who want's to read that, heh?!
    • being in a plane that disintegrates in mid-air, falling onto a road, getting hit by a car whilst it's raining where I drown in a deep water-filled pothole. That's what's got me most concerned.
    • Obviously it depends on how much you fly. So far this year I've flown 27 segments (take offs and landings) on work assignments. I wonder what's the average per person.
    • The odds of dying in a plane crash are 1 in 5,051 in your whole lifetime. To give you some perspective, you're 5 times more likely to drown, 23 times more likely to fall to your death, and 60 times more likely to die in a car accident.

      Therefore, a far more useful article would be "How to survive driving off a seaside cliff into the ocean."

      The answer is self-evident - as you're driving off the cliff, simply aim your car at a passing airplane. Once you've embedded your car into the side of the plan

    • "and 60 times more likely to die in a car accident."

      Given I use my car everyday and I fly about twice a year max (and that probably roughly applies to a lot of people) it would seem to me that my car is actually safer than the plane. In fact you could say that for most people the safest method of transport is the space shuttle since hardly anyone will ever travel in it!
    • by Khashishi (775369)
      Obviously, your odds go up if you fly a lot. Business travelers?
  • by rundstykke (645735) on Saturday July 21, 2007 @12:48PM (#19938759)
    ..an entertaining read I bumped into a couple of months back, describing how to survive a freefall from 35'000 feet...

    http://www.greenharbor.com/fffolder/carkeet.html [greenharbor.com]


    /Rundstykke
  • by Kohath (38547) on Saturday July 21, 2007 @12:48PM (#19938763)
    If you're really worried about a plane crash, I suggest staying home. Maybe don't get out of bed at all.

    Watching and reading the news is your real problem. Things that happen on the news are extremely unlikely to happen to you. That's why you never see headlines like "Jill Larson Goes to the Market. Buys Coffee. (Subtitle: Coffee purchase exceeds analysts' expectations by 100%)"

    That's all. I have to go to the market. But I'm not buying coffee, so no commercial airliners will crash today.

    • by LGagnon (762015)

      That's why you never see headlines like "Jill Larson Goes to the Market. Buys Coffee.
      Actually, you do. They call these things commercials.
    • If you're really worried about a plane crash, I suggest staying home. Maybe don't get out of bed at all.


      Okay, so it would work up to a point. The 'point' being the airliner that crashes into your house.
  • by Joce640k (829181) on Saturday July 21, 2007 @12:50PM (#19938769) Homepage
    The BBC did a documentary on this...and...

    The best place is "near an exit door".

    Statistically, most crashes are survivable if you can get out. The biggest impediment to getting out is the number of other people between you and the door. The ones who don't get out die of smoke/fire.

  • by antifoidulus (807088) on Saturday July 21, 2007 @12:50PM (#19938779) Homepage Journal
    provided you aren't driving. That is much more important question. Or even better yet, why in the hell are SUVs legal? An ever better question that can save many more lives!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 21, 2007 @12:54PM (#19938805)
    ... where all but one of the survivors from the tail section so far as been kidnapped or murdered.
    • by no_pets (881013)
      Damn, I wish that I had mod points. :-)
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by AJWM (19027)
      where all but one of the survivors from the tail section so far as been kidnapped or murdered.

      And, strictly speaking, he wasn't a tail section passenger. His assigned seat was midsection, he just happened to be in a tailsection bathroom when the excitement started. (Although IIRC he had time to strap himself into a seat which ended up in a tree.)

      (I just got Season 2 from the library and watched the whole thing in about three days. Probably fried some neural circuits. ;-)
  • Excuse me... (Score:5, Informative)

    by AsmCoder8088 (745645) on Saturday July 21, 2007 @01:00PM (#19938843)

    The raw data from these 20 accidents has been languishing for decades in National Transportation Safety Board files, waiting to be analyzed by anyone curious enough to look and willing to do the statistical drudgework.

    So, they are working off of a sample size of twenty??? Not sure if I would draw too many conclusions from this dataset.

    • by pyite (140350)
      I had the exact same thought. At first I thought this might be kinda cool. Then I saw 20. Twenty? You have to be kidding.

    • Re:Excuse me... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fermion (181285) on Saturday July 21, 2007 @04:52PM (#19940697) Homepage Journal
      Yeah, and this is likely the least of their troubles. The data was basically 50/50, and they did not show that 5% difference was significant.

      Given thier analysis, and what often happens in a plane crash, this is what I think might be a more reasonable conclusion.

      In the event of a passenger jet crash, probability is that everyone will die. If everyone does not die, the statistics still favor a majority of the passengers being killed in the crash.

      The analysis in the paper appears to show a slightly higher probability of survival in the back of the plane, but did not show that the level was statistically significant. In the other cases the was not a clear effect of seat position, and often the back of the plane appeared to be preferentially fatal.

      So, in summary, the passenger jet is not likely to crash. In the few cases where a crash does occur, and fatalities ensue, then there are not, on average, going to be many survivors. In the extremely rare case that jet crashes and there are survivors, a passenger may be safer up back, unless it is one of those cases where you are safe in front. Therefore, the best thing to do is sit somewhere in the middle.

  • by Joe The Dragon (967727) on Saturday July 21, 2007 @01:09PM (#19938921)
    The MythBusters say it is the rear facing flight attendant seat in the back of the plane.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MythBusters_(season_2 )#Escape [wikipedia.org] Slide Parachute
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mykdavies (1369)

      The MythBusters say it is the rear facing flight attendant seat in the back of the plane.
      Without having seen the episode in question, I'd imagine that all that they could reasonably show is that a sober and alert member of cabin crew who has been through extensive training in how to survive emergency situations and is sitting in the rear facing flight attendant seat in the back of the plane is most likely to survive.
  • by WormholeFiend (674934) on Saturday July 21, 2007 @01:09PM (#19938923)
    to get a seat inside the black box?
    • by Dunbal (464142)
      It's the G forces that kill you. Even inside the "black box" you'd be splattered all over the front wall.

      If you're sitting in the back of a plane that hits the ground nose first, all that damage and crumpling buys you time since the plane is changing kinetic energy into "damage". By the time your section enters the impact zone (and yes we're talking milliseconds) you will have decelerated a little. This means less G forces when your section hits the ground (which is NOT that flexible a
    • to get a seat inside the black box?

      Probably, but the shocks would still kill you, however, you can pickup a cheap black plastic bag at your local supermarket and pretend it's like the real thing. Warning though, do not try while driving. Better use your tinfoil hat.
  • by niceone (992278) * on Saturday July 21, 2007 @01:15PM (#19938977) Journal
    ...just reboot and you should be fine.
  • excellent (Score:4, Funny)

    by JustNiz (692889) on Saturday July 21, 2007 @01:16PM (#19938983)
    All those arrogant dicks in first class get to die first.
  • I guess being in first class isn't that much more advantageous.
  • by Per Wigren (5315) on Saturday July 21, 2007 @01:47PM (#19939249) Homepage
    That's where the snakes are!
  • First Class (Score:4, Funny)

    by 15Bit (940730) on Saturday July 21, 2007 @01:52PM (#19939285)
    As a regular flier in cattle-class, i'd just like to say that its nice to see first class passengers getting the preferential treatment they deserve. First on, first off and first into the mountainside...
  • by microcars (708223) on Saturday July 21, 2007 @01:55PM (#19939307) Homepage
    peacefully in his sleep

    not like the passengers in his car, screaming and yelling

  • The safest seat in a crash is probably a window seat so God can better hear your pleas for him to save you.
  • by keytohwy (975131)
    On Lost, the ones towards the back were the first to be picked off by "the others." Only the front seats for me!
  • by Waffle Iron (339739) on Saturday July 21, 2007 @02:03PM (#19939367)
    According to this site [airlinesafety.com], if you fly every day, you'd get killed once every 19,000 years. That's about a 1 in 7 million odds per flight, which sounds about right.

    When you sit in the back, it takes longer to get off of the plane because you have to wait for all the bozos in front of you to fumble for their personal belongings. I'd say that a conservative estimate is an average of 5 extra minutes. So before your first expected crash, you'd waste 5 * 7,000,000 minutes, or 66 solid years waiting at the back of planes. So to save each life, you're essentially using up an entire lifetime standing hunched over watching old codgers wrestle with their suitcases. (It's actually much worse than that, because only a fraction of fatal crashes even have a difference in outcome between the front and the back. A lot of times, everybody dies and sitting in the back doesn't help anyway.)

  • by argStyopa (232550) on Saturday July 21, 2007 @05:03PM (#19940777) Journal
    From TFA: "...So when the "experts" tell you it doesn't matter where you sit, have a chuckle and head for the back of the plane. And once your seatbelt is firmly fastened, relax: There's been just one fatal jet crash in the U.S. in the last five-plus years"

    1 jet crash in the last "five-plus" years? Doesn't five-plus = five or more?
    I'm pretty sure that there has been more than one fatal crash in the last "five or more" years, no?

    Perhaps he meant "slightly more than five"?
  • by icepick72 (834363) on Saturday July 21, 2007 @09:06PM (#19942335)
    All of a sudden chivalry makes a comeback as men everywhere offer their mother-in-laws the more comfortable front seats of the plane.

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