What are the chances of surviving a plane crash?

In 2016 there were about 163 aviation 'accidents' worldwide

Updated: 

This is your realistic chance of surviving a plane crash

Plane crashes are widely and extensively reported, often dominating the news.

With over 100,000 flights taking place each day, it's natural there should be a huge public appetite for as much information on aviation accidents and safety as possible.

​​​​​See also: Pilots debunk air travel myths

See also: Ten air disasters that were never solved

Last year was reported to be the safest in aviation history, with 24 fatal crashes and 325 deaths.

Statistically, they remain comparatively uncommon; but should one happen to your plane, is it an automatic death sentence, or is there a chance of survival?

It's this matter Tom Farrier, a retired USAF rescue helicopter pilot who currently works in aviation safety, has shed some light on.

The chances of surviving a plane crash.

To get an understanding of the odds, Tom breaks down some figures on Quora.

"In 2016 there were about 163 aviation 'accidents' worldwide, including those involving business jets and military transports as well as jet and propeller airliners.

"A grand total of 24 resulted in fatalities, meaning only about 15 per cent of all accidents in this grouping - which themselves are extremely rare events - actually resulted in lives being lost."

Credits: Reuters

Passengers stand on the wings of a U.S. Airways plane as a ferry pulls up to it after it landed in the Hudson River in New York

So already, there are low odds of someone being involved in a fatal plane crash.

Then there are the FOUR possible outcomes to any crash:

  1. You survive a survivable accident;

  2. You survive a non-survivable accident;

  3. You don't survive a survivable accident; or

  4. You don't survive a non-survivable accident.

The definition of a "survivable accident", according to Tom, is one that fulfils three conditions."

Credits: Getty

Safety measures have been honed considerably to prevent injuries or fatalities

  • The forces encountered by human occupants were within the limits of human tolerance;
  • The structure surrounding occupants remains substantially intact, maintaining an uncompromised volume around them; and
  • The post-crash environment does not present an immediate threat to occupants or rescuers.

What this means "in practical terms" is, harmful forces are directed away from passengers, ones which cannot be re-directed are slowed down "and keeping the fire, smoke and fumes from easily starting or readily spreading."

Credits: Reuters

The scene of a cargo airplane that crashed after take-off near Juba Airport in South Sudan November 4, 2015

"On this basis," Tom expands, "you can see that a smoking hole in the ground is non-survivable, and there's always a possibility that a small number of people don't get the full benefit of protections that rendered the overall accident to be considered 'survivable.'"

But, there are plenty of instances when "non-survivable" accidents have not resulted in a 100 per cent fatality rate.

To substantiate this, in February 2001, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board released the results of a comprehensive review of air carrier safety.

Credits: Rex Features

Commercial airplane interior with seats and aisle

Their study shows since 1983, more than 95 per cent of the passengers survived accidents which included those which, "given the criteria above, the accident itself should have been considered 'non-survivable.'

"A large contributor to this record goes to the many improvements the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration required of air carriers over time. These included:

  • Improved seat cushions with reduced flammability

  • Floor proximity emergency escape path marking

  • Lavatory smoke detectors

  • Lavatory fire extinguishers

Credits: Reuters

The tail section of a crashed light plane and burning house are seen after the plane went down in a residential area and burst into flames

  • Halon fire extinguishers

  • Improved interior materials

  • Cargo compartment liners

  • Cargo compartment fire detection/suppression

  • Thermal/acoustic insulation

  • 16G seats

  • Improved access to certain types of exits.

Tom's bottom line?

"Accidents are rare; when they happen, fatalities are that much rarer thanks to a lot of hard work and investment in making planes as safe as possible."


15 flights from hell

15 flights from hell


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