July 2nd, 2009
03:26 PM ET

How do people survive airline crashes?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/TRAVEL/06/30/air.crash.survivors/art.crash.afp.gi.jpg caption="Part of a United Airlines DC-10 lies next to the runway in Sioux City, Iowa, after the plane crashed in July 1989."]
Jim Kavanagh

Reports of a lone child having survived Tuesday's crash of a Yemenia Airways flight in the Indian Ocean have people wondering: How does anyone survive a plane crash?

"I just don't think there's any pattern to survivability. It's just luck of the draw and depends on how the plane goes in," said aviation expert John Eakin, head of Air Data Research in Helotes, Texas.

Not counting Tuesday's disaster, there have been 12 airliner crashes since 1970 that yielded a sole survivor, according to data compiled by Dr. Todd Curtis, director of the Airsafe.com Foundation. Five of those survivors were minors and four were crew members, accounting for 75 percent of the total.

"I can't figure out for the life of me why crew members and children tend to be disproportionate in these sole-survivor events," Curtis said.

One factor favoring flight crew members is their location in the sturdy cockpit and proximity to windows, he said. Flight attendants often use shoulder harnesses when they are seated, aviation writer David Noland added.

Where one is seated is a factor only in that it helps to be far from the point of impact, Eakin said.

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Filed under: 360° Radar
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Annie Kate

    Survivors may just be lucky people or at least the type of person who can stay calm and focused during a situation like a crash. Realizing what has happened and knowing what you need to do instinctively increases their survival chances. If the survivor isn't that type of person then I guess it just sheer dumb luck. We all should be so lucky.

    July 2, 2009 at 6:15 pm |
  2. earle,florida

    Paradoxically,and contrary to belief a child believes infinitely that their entire life is scripted by the future,which they have a lock-on! A unique ubiguitous gift of intrinsic knowledge, that their whole life is ahead of them. I'll quote this old saying,"Why is youth wasted on the young?" The hardest part of death is the underworld's garganuous appetite for life? You spend your entire life preparing for it,but not caring when it comes. Why? Life is for living ,period,and certainly if not for the unexpected visit of the grim-reaper,by accident,chance,or sleep,it's shadow has always been around the corner? But as we age it becomes less threatening,and a more exceptible alternative to living forever as a mortal,...? This young girl's life is just another example of a higher authority who controls all our destinies,here,and the hereafter!

    July 2, 2009 at 4:56 pm |
  3. Cindy

    People survive plane crashes by pure luck and help from a higher power above!


    July 2, 2009 at 3:28 pm |