February 13th, 2009
05:09 PM ET

Psychology of an airplane crash

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/02/13/plane.crash.new.york/art.buffalo.crash1.bee.jpg caption="Only a few pieces of the Continental Connection Dash 8 turboprop were recognizable after the crash. "]

Dr. Gail Saltz
AC360° Contributor

Practically on the heels of the triumphant success of the US Airways flight ‘splash landing’ in the Hudson River, comes the tragically opposite outcome of the plane crash near Buffalo, NY last night. As if the fragility of life needs to be underscored any further right now, many Americans are struggling with various fears about the precariousness of their situations. They are hoping that this new President will find a way to provide protection and solutions. This crash is a sad reminder that life contains inherent risk and that try, as we all might, sometimes bad stuff happens anyway.

It is tragic that 50 innocent people have lost their lives….but what we all need to remember is that this is truly a fluke. This is the first fatal crash since 2006. Airplane crashes are actually rare, much more unusual than fatal car crashes. Yet plane crashes play on our most instinctual fears. People are often afraid of heights and the idea of being high in the sky in a heavy piece of metal leaves us all feeling scared and amazed that this doesn’t happen more often.

Fears of flying are amongst the most common of the simple phobias. Also, the idea that you can be sitting supposedly secure in your home but get killed by an airplane crashing through the roof makes it seem as if there is no truly safe place. It is our identification with the victims on board these planes AND in the houses that at times bear the blow of these crashes, which creates our horror.

There is also the feeling that “the sky really is falling” that looms over us. Everyday there is bad news. Job loss, stock markets dropping, foreclosures rising. It is as though we are in a downward spiral and this influences the way we view an individual tragedy. Watching the burning wreckage can draw us into feeling like we are caught in a state of perpetual tragedy.

Hard as it may be to keep perspective, it is important to do so, perhaps now more than ever. Air crashes are rare. It is still safe to fly. If you are truly afraid, get treatment as fears of flying can respond very well to therapy. If you are feeling down and powerless in your current situation, make an effort to reach out and help others. Helping another really makes you feel useful and more in control, it is often the best thing you can do to help yourself.

Filed under: Clarence Plane Crash • Gail Saltz
soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. diana veronski

    i believe strongly that god has a plan for those people in that airplane. And i believe that i am part of that plan. without that belief how could we all live?

    February 14, 2009 at 2:13 am |
  2. Debbie

    I was fortunate enough to visit Clarence NY with a friend of mine who was from that great little town. What struck me the most was what "quality" "salt of the earth" people there were in that community. I stayed up late last night watching the coverage when I learned the crash happened in Clarence. I knew that community would "pitch in" & do all that they could. Props to AC for coming back on the air in the middle of the night to cover the story. I look forward to hearing more.

    February 14, 2009 at 12:29 am |
  3. daniel

    yes this crash was a tragedy, but thanks be to God it could have been a lot worse, one house should i say anymore

    February 13, 2009 at 11:30 pm |
  4. Brooklyn

    It's fashionable to underscore the fact that, statistically speaking, flying is the safest way to travel especially compared to traveling by car. The problem with this is that you are not in control at all when in a tube flying at 35,000 feet.

    At least in a car you are in control of the vehicle and in the event of a car crash you are on the ground. So once you crash in a car there is still a possibility of walking away, and you see people walk away from car crashes all the time, even rollovers. By comparison once something seriously goes wrong on a plane, that's it, there is no walking away (the vast majority of the time).

    I try and drive or take the train when I travel, and I wish America had a bullet train like every other industrialized nation on the planet. It's time we invest in other modes of transport like high speed trains. I should be able to have to option of not flying without getting penalized by added days to a trip by train.

    February 13, 2009 at 10:30 pm |
  5. michelle, Iowa

    May us all pray tonight for our loved ones, and the loved ones lost in this horrible accident...
    Our Father
    3 Hail Marys
    Glory Be,

    February 13, 2009 at 10:29 pm |
  6. KIm

    Two planes down within two months ? Economic cut backs ? Cooper will probably be asking about it !

    February 13, 2009 at 9:48 pm |
  7. Pat Canada

    My thoughts and prayers are with the families who have lost loved ones and friends. There are really no words to describe the shock and heartache felt in hearing about this enormous tragedy.

    Heather I agree with your comment. Our world has made so many advances we have so many conveniences but still so much sorrow.

    February 13, 2009 at 8:43 pm |
  8. DNWord

    So who is the actual keeper of the statistics? Just how many flights DO go down as compared to the number of flights altogether? Of those, how many are due to icing on the wings? And of those, what kinds of mechanisms were in place to prevent icing and, most important of all, why did they fail?

    February 13, 2009 at 8:27 pm |
  9. Annie Kate

    I'm not afraid of flying but I don't fly. I enjoy watching the scenery change on my infrequent trips to places (personal trips) so this crash won't change my travel habits. I feel for the passengers on this flight though – did they know they were in trouble and were frightened in their last moments.... I hope they did not realize there was a problem and that they all died instantly from blunt force and not by the fire.

    February 13, 2009 at 8:26 pm |
  10. Heather,ca

    What happened on the Hudson was a rare and historic event in avation history. What happened last night is all too often the result of a cobination of factors that happen more often . A good pilot and co pilot are dependent upon the maintenance crew. Every person involved with a plane has their role and responsibility. If one person doesnt do their job properly it can have deadly results. We live in such a fast paced world. Sometimes efforts to save money and save time result in this plane crashing and all dead. Im not afraid of flying. Im afraid that maybe not all involved in the plane I board have communicated any and all concerns and that the plane may not be maintained properly. Its terrible that 50 people with family had to die for someone to learn from their mistake.

    February 13, 2009 at 6:09 pm |
  11. John ~ Southern NJ

    I have always been afraid of flying, but I had to for work and the military. Still, I have not flown since 2002. I flew out to Denver, CO on Sep 9, 2001, and was on one of the first planes allowed to fly on Sep 14, 2001. I was forced to fly for work in April 2002, but I do not like it. Accidents like this make me even more aware of how helpless we are on a plane. People say, there are more accidents in cars, but there are more cars. I think the difference is people think they have some control over things.

    February 13, 2009 at 5:39 pm |
  12. biba

    This is so tragic. My thoughts and prayers to the families and friends.

    February 13, 2009 at 4:33 pm |
  13. LindaKeiko

    According to Wikipedia, there were 22 incidents involving a Commercial aircraft in 2008, 25 in 2007 and 10 in 2006. We are two and a half months into 2009 and we're already at 2 plane crashes. I think this is the part in the evolutionary cycle where we start growing wings or figure out how to teleport.

    February 13, 2009 at 4:12 pm |
  14. J G

    I am flying to Buffalo next week to visit family. I'm not too excited about the flight now, but its an important trip. Plus lighting doesn't usually strike twice in the same place.

    In the words of Woody Allen, "Its not that I'm afraid of death...I just don't want to be around when it happens."

    February 13, 2009 at 4:00 pm |
  15. Venkat

    I am a frquent flyer with contenental .. rather i feel the quality of the airplanes is at stake now. Do these flights go for fitness test once they cross a certain years of lifetime ?? is there a external/government body which inspects the flights of a private airline services time and time again. and certify.??

    From the time the airplane was invented we still are learning to fly safe thats what i would assume.Yes the policies/process have got matured over the time but the every time i step into a flight the fear is still there for a safe trip...

    February 13, 2009 at 3:43 pm |
  16. john schaeffer

    The faa needs to streamline aircraft for safety. This turboprop is not an all weather plane design with weaknesses. The engines failed due to buildup of snow causing a death spiral into a house. This type of air craft needs to be never used again in flying.

    February 13, 2009 at 3:38 pm |
  17. vikram muralidaran

    In one of the CNN Videos, an expert commented that there was a similar incident few years back involving a TURBOPROP aircraft which had to dive 4000 feet in order to regain control and prevent stalling. This was due to ice in the leading edges of the wings. If so, why do major airlines still fly such aircrafts, in NORTHEAST USA and in PEAK WINTER when the probability of occurance is high?.

    February 13, 2009 at 3:00 pm |
  18. Paul

    "'It's hard to make sense of it today, but God hasn't left us,' said New York Gov. David Paterson." No, God has not left us. He would have to be there in the first place in order to leave us. Must we as adults still deal with life through fairy tales and superstition? I know this must be difficult beyond measure for those involved, but why must a government official give us a theology lesson and poor answer by invoking a bronze age myth?

    February 13, 2009 at 2:52 pm |
  19. Ray Lewandowski

    I work in the aerospace industry. The requirements set my not only by our, but foriegn gov'ts regarding the quality of everything from the raw materials to inspection and quality management of processes throughout the manufacturing of aircraft is taken very seriously, and the continued advances in technologies and professional integrity ensure current and future aircraft engines and components will far surpass the safety requirements established now and in the future.

    February 13, 2009 at 2:41 pm |
  20. Rekha AC

    It is really stupid to blame the new President "on offering protection and new solutions", to an accidental tragedy such as this. If responsible citizens such as yourself, came up with a certain degree of personal vigilance to prevent such accidents, that would definitely help the new President a great deal.
    This tragedy happened on the heels of the miracle that saved the previous flight that landed on the Hudson. Of course that miracle had to do a lot with the ingenious thoughtfulness and quick thinking of the captain and the crew. I wonder on this occasion, psychiatrist, if you had reserved any kudos for our new President. I mean, you were so quick to pick on the President for new ideas on preventing the current flight tragedy in question, I was wondering if you had any compliments for him on the miracle that saved the previous flight in New York.
    Maybe you should focus more on the Senate and the House behaving in a more responsible manner, instead of bowing out so ungraciously at the time of dire need. All said and done it is easy to pick on the new President, but despite that the broader sense of national awareness should not be lost to petty bickering. So psychiatrist, what is your opinion?

    February 13, 2009 at 2:35 pm |
  21. Cal-G

    The tragic irony in this incident is the death of one of the passengers, the 9/11 widow Eckert - if I recall her name correctly - en route to Buffalo to celebrate what would've been her husband's 57th birthday. She and other 9/11 survivors had just met with Obama to discuss domestic security. May both her and her husband rest in peace, especially now that they're reunited in Heaven.

    This is yet another reminder of how vulnerable we are, how we must curb our arrogance, and how every day is a precious gift. I went through a terrible fear of flying recently - and this is decades after having been practically raised aboard aircraft by accompanying my folks on business trips as a teenager. Must be part of getting older. But I still enjoy traveling, and have next to no problem getting on a plane. While I agree that fear is designed (ideally) to keep us from doing stupid things like sticking a finger into a candle flame, we cannot let it keep us from living our lives to the fullest.

    February 13, 2009 at 2:31 pm |
  22. Ally

    Hey whats the name of the passengers, my friend's dad was on that plane, she is eleven. 🙁

    February 13, 2009 at 2:16 pm |
  23. Alba, Boston

    Let us pray for all the souls lost by this tragedy. May God welcome them into The Eternal Kingdom.
    In the words of St. Thomas More, "There is no sorrow on earth that heaven cannot heal" God heal your suffering people and the loved ones that grieve for their loss, amen.

    February 13, 2009 at 2:04 pm |
  24. Joe G. (From Illinois)

    It might be an amazing observation to some.. That some deaths are considered OK and don’t even make the news.. Like one’s that are pure evil or in which you are in control.. Like Abortion for example.. But others in which neither you nor the devil is in control are considered bad. Just makes you think about who’s that next door neighbor of yours that waives at you in the morning!!! Doesn’t it???

    February 13, 2009 at 1:58 pm |
  25. Michael "C" Lorton, Virginia

    Luis: Fear is interest being paid on trouble that hasn't happen-–the only fear we should be concern about is "fear itself." Don't live my life that way buddy-–appreciate and respect your comment.

    February 13, 2009 at 1:39 pm |
  26. Fay - California

    Air crashes are rare. It is still safe to fly.

    This is what I keep telling myself and I'll fly if I absolutely have to, but it's never going to be something that I'm completely comfortable doing.

    February 13, 2009 at 1:29 pm |
  27. Bev C Town of Tonawanda, NY

    Living in a suburb of Buffalo and no far from the scene of the crash, I can only imagine what the families are going through right now. It is such an oddity that it even occurred. We have never had a plan crash leaving or landing at Buffalo International Airport. I myself have never been on a plane and do not intend to ever do so. In the area where I live, we had very icy roads this morning, but once I drove into Buffalo, the streets were dry. May God have mercy on all those poor souls on that plane.

    February 13, 2009 at 1:20 pm |
  28. Luis

    Michael "C" Lorton, Virginia

    OH MAN, im getting a headache.

    Fear keeps us safe. If it weren't for fear, people would be doing reckless things and probably killing themselves.

    Fear keeps the Markets in check, something our government keeps taking away. These banks and mortgage companies didnt have fear of losing all their money because our government guaranteed promises.

    February 13, 2009 at 1:15 pm |
  29. Michael "C" Lorton, Virginia

    Life has it uncertainies and the wise person prays to God, not for safety from danger, but for deliverance from fear.

    February 13, 2009 at 1:09 pm |
  30. Isabel Abreu, Brazil

    Although it is common knowledge that the airplane is a means of transport are more secure, where statistics show that for every 1.32 million passengers by air, 1 (one) can die in a crash, while more than 265 will die or going or coming from airport to the fly population is frightening.

    Faced with so many air disasters in the headlines of newspapers, some are not convinced that the falls are rare, that it is normal to work.

    This is the second plane that crashed in the US in less than a month.

    But why these things happen?
    • Excess traffic in the air?
    • Lack of maintenance?
    • People who are forced to use the plane, are at risk?

    You will, tonight, something about it?

    Like me, many must be afraid to use the airplane (and I always liked to go by plane).

    February 13, 2009 at 12:50 pm |