With the Asiana crash at SFO, I thought that it might be timely to share some of my training in aircraft survival.  When I lived in Alaska, it was a requirement for me to go through wilderness and aircraft survival due to the nature of my work taking me all over the state.  The average time to find a downed plane in Alaska is two days since much of the region is out of radar coverage and they may not be sure where you were last seen.  It was a great course and included a trainer that turned us upside down in the water and we had to unbuckle a swim out through debris.  While I can’t duplicate that experience here, I certainly can share some of the classroom lessons taught to us.

Like much of the military training we have all been through, the key here is situational awareness and practicing enough so that “muscle memory” takes over.  Very similar to the weapons training we all go through.  Just like the safety card that everyone habitually ignores in the seat pocket in front of them, the mental part of this only works if you actually go through the mental steps ahead of time.  When the pilot tells you to assume the crash position, it is too late to go through these steps.

Pre-Flight Prep:

1.  Wherever you are seated, examine the closest and the next closest exit in relation to where you are seated.

2.  Count the number of rows to those exits since you may not be able to see the exit if the cabin has smoke in it.  You may need to go forward or back by that number of rows.

3.  Read the safety card even if you think you already know it.  I recently had a Fight Attendent ask me how I would open the exit door and I failed.  Turns out I was on a different model of plane that had new exit doors that sprang open like a DeLorean.  I would have known this if I had read the card.

4.  Practice locating your seat belt release with your eyes closed.  If you try to shoot straight for where you think the buckle is, you may be wrong and continue to fumble about without finding it.  A better way is to take your hand to a known point that you can always find such as your heart.  From there sweep downward along your body and you will be assured of running into your seat belt.  From there you can slide your hand along the belt and find the buckle release.

4.  When you are seated right next to an exit door, you should also practice finding the door handle with your eyes closed.  Be discrete about this as others might get nervous if they see someone playing with the exit door handle!  Similar to the other exercise, from where your arm is after releasing your buckle, run your arm over your lap rotating it so that your hand strikes the wall at lap level.  From there sweep up the wall and you are certain to run into the door handle.  Once the handle is located, it is critical that you recall from the card how this type of door handle operates.  Some require rotating the handle, other require you pull the handle up, and some still require you grip the door above and below.  You need to assume that the cabin will be filled with smoke so do not depend on using your eyes.

Pre-Crash Prep:

1.  Listen to the pilot’s and/ or FA instructions.  I know this sounds easy, but how many people have you told to do something and they then do something different.  This is because many people do not listen to what is said, but instead hear what they expect to hear and take action based upon that.  Listen carefully and wait until the announcement is completed before acting.

2.  Assume the crash position if directed.  The best crash position is to take one hand and cover the face while putting that arm’s elbow in your gut.  Take your other arm and wrap it around your body taking a firm grip on your opposite shoulder.  Then bend forward tucking your head down and putting the elbow of the arm wrapping around between your legs.  This position will allow your body to absorb energy coming from any direction while protecting your vital spots.  This is slightly different than the FAA’s crash posiiton, but I think the instructor is right that it is a little better than the standard position.

3.  Think through the actions you will take post-crash and go through the instructions from the safety card in your head to remember each step such as looking through the window of the exit door before opening to ensure there is no fire on the other side.

Post-Crash Actions:

1.  Stay calm.  Remember “slow is smooth and smooth is fast”.  Get off the plane and help others do so.  The entire plane is designed to be evacuated within two minutes.

2.  For God Sake’s leave your carry-ons behind.  Nothing in that carry-on is worth your life or that of your fellow passengers.  It appalled me to see some passengers pulling their carry-ons from the Asian flight.

3.  Remember that you don’t have to go down the aisle.  Going over the seats may be a better bet for you especially if you are in a window seat.

4.  Once evacuated to a safe distance stay there so they can get accountability of the passengers.  Don’t go wandering off.  If you have to leave the area to get help, let someone know your name and where you are going.

5.  Render aid according to your abilities.  If you are certified in First Aid or CPR this is a good time to put those skills to work until the First Responders can reach the site.

I hope these tips can help ou if you are ever in a crash situation.  As the Boy Scouts say “Always be prepared”.


Posted by glenn | 8 Comments

8 responses to “Surviving a Plane Crash”

  1. paul v says:

    A quick adder: LEAVE YOUR SHOES ON UNTIL AIRBORNE!!! you DON’T want to be trying to evacuate a broken and/or burning airplane barefoot!

  2. Trevor says:

    This is a great post. Definitely learned something new on the crash position too. Thanks!

  3. Excellent post. And very timely of course. I will feature this for my readers tomorrow.

  4. […] Surviving a Plane Crash. By Military Frequent Flyer. Excellent post based on his experience. Take a few moments to read it, it may save lives one day! […]

  5. Mike says:

    Great post Colonel.

    Whenever I take a seat I always do a dry run in my mind, just in case. Scan for the nearest two exits. Look if there is someone who looks like they may need some help.

    Whenever I have an exit row seat I take a good look at door’s release mechanism. If I’m not sure EXACTLY how it works I ask the flight attendant. That usually surprises the heck out of them!

  6. Great, informative post! I hope this information that none of your readers ever need to use, but it is still better to know and prepare for this.

    I truly hope that those sitting in the exit row on my flights take that responsibility as seriously as you do. I often wonder how many of them bother to read the safety card and/or study other instructions.

  7. Trevor says:

    Coming back at this nearly a month later — I’m feeling like this post is one of the few I’ve read that truly deserves to be printed out and referred to. Thank you for this. I’ve forwarded it to family and friends as well.

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