Surviving a Plane Crash: Does Where You Sit Make a Difference?


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An incredible story of luck and ingenuity has emerged in the wake of the tragic TransAsia plane crash in Taiwan on Wednesday.

A Taiwanese couple and their young son switched seats on the plane just minutes before takeoff, after the father heard an unsettling noise coming from the left wing of the plane.

He asked cabin crew on the half-full flight, if he and his family could switch to the opposite side of the plane. That move now appears to have saved the family’s lives.

Airplane manufacturer Boeing claims on its website that “one seat is as safe as another,” but does where you sit on a plane really matter in the case of an accident? Are you safer sitting in some seats than in others?

“It is very difficult to say how well anyone would survive an accident. It all depends on how a plane crashes,” aviation accident investigator Don Knutson told Yahoo Travel.

“There are a lot of factors to consider, including how fast it’s going, what it crashes into, how the plane behaves before it crashes. For example if the plane is rolling and impacts on the left side, then you probably don’t want to be sitting on that side of the plane.”

Related: Airplane Delays From Hell

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However, looking a plane-crash research suggests there are some places on a plane where you are statistically more likely to survive, should a plane go down.

Professor Ed Galea, from the University Of Greenwich, London, analyzed over 100 seating charts from plane crashes and found that people sitting in the five rows closest to the emergency exit rows were much more likely to survive.

“Many people survive the initial impact but don’t get off the plane quickly enough,” Galea explains in the study. “The first ninety seconds after a crash are considered the most important by safety experts.”

“The closer you are to an emergency-exit row, the faster you can get off the plane. And if that plane catches on fire or starts taking on water you want to get off fast,” Knutson added.

The same can be said of aisle seats, which allow faster access to exits.

Related: Secrets I Learned Sitting Next to an Airline Pilot

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Seats toward the back of the plane also appear to be statistically safer. According to Galea’s study, people sitting in the last few rows are 40 percent more likely to survive.

“If the plane crashes nose first, the front takes all the impact of the collision,” Knutson points out. “We regularly see the tail end of a plane still intact following a crash, where the rest of the plane has completely disintegrated.”

But the likelihood of even being involved in an aviation accident, let alone one that leads to any fatalities, remains slim. If a plane does go down, the chances of survival are high according to the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC), which examined the survivability of aircraft accidents worldwide and found that over 90 percent were survivable.

“You are safer flying than in any other mode of transport,” concluded Knutson.

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