Common wisdom dictates that if your plane starts plummeting to earth, it doesn't matter where you're sitting—you're gonna be incinerated, smashed to bits, fully submerged in the ocean, perhaps eaten by sharks or crocodiles. In fact, a study of recent plane crashes suggests a high rate of survivability, as Tim Jepsen explains in the London Daily Telegraph:
[T]here were 568 plane crashes in the US between 1993 and 2000, involving a total of 53,487 passengers and crew. Of these, 51,207 – or over 90 per cent survived. Even on the 26 crashes deemed the worst, the study found that more than half the passengers and crew survived.How to survive? Well, Jepsen writes, "you can be lucky, like the 155 passengers and crew of US Airways Flight 1549, the plane that crash-landed on New York's Hudson River, and enjoy a combination of luck, superlative flying and excellent staff training. Or you can take matters into your own hands."
First, always book your seat in the rear of the plane. A Popular Mechanics study examined all commercial jet crashes in the United States since 1971 and found that the odds of survival are far greater for passengers sitting in the back of the plane.
Aside from booking a seat in the rear, there are other things you can do to increase your odds of survival in case of disaster. The folks over at HowStuffWorks offer the following tips:
- Identify exits and count the rows between them and your seat--that way, if the plane descends into darkness you'll be able to find your way to the exit.
- Prepare for impact by assuming the official FAA crash position:
extend your arms, cross your hands and place them on the seat in front of you, and then place your head against the back of your hands. Tuck your feet under your seat as far as you can. If you have no seat in front of you, bend your upper body over with your head down and wrap your arms behind your knees.
- Wear crash-appropriate clothes: long pants, long sleeves, and closed-toe shoes. This can protect you from crash debris and, in case of survival, the elements.
- If you're flying with your family, discuss an emergency plan, including dividing any children between responsible adults.
- Pay attention to the preflight emergency instructions—all planes are different, and knowing the details of emergency procedures can drastically increase your odds of surviving a worst-case scenario.
On Feb. 2, Army Private Daniel Pharr, in his first-ever sky dive, survived through quick thinking when his instructor suffered a mid-air heart attack during their tandem jump. Though Pharr was a novice, he had paid attention during the instructional video and used what he had learned to direct the parachute to safe ground. This was harder than it seems, explains Ben Sherwood, the author of The Survivors Club: The Secrets and Science That Could Save Your Life:
It's not easy for a newbie sky diver to land safely, especially with a dead man strapped to his back. If he had pulled on the handles too hard, for instance, Pharr might have gone into an uncontrollable spin. And yet, when everything went wrong, Pharr somehow did everything right.Sherwood interviewed Christian Hart, a psychologist and veteran skydiver, who believes that in time of extreme stress, people emerge as one of two kinds of personalities: Either they refuse to quit, even as the odds of surviving dwindle to just above zero; or they resign themselves to death and wait for it to happen.
So there's your tip: Be that first kind of person.
Second tip: Get really freaking lucky.
In 2005, Shayna West's parachute and reserve failed to open and she plummeted thousands of feet before landing face-first in a parking lot. Not only did she survive, but the fetus she hadn't known she was carrying survived as well. She carried the baby to term and gave birth to a healthy boy. To review: West landed on her face and presumably also on her stomach; she and the baby survived. She does appear to be the first kind of person—she explains in an interview with CBS several months after the accident and 15 facial reconstruction surgeries:
Of course, as high up as I was, I was still about 3,000 feet off the ground, I was gonna give it a try. I was doing everything I knew to do to correct the malfunction. But, ultimately, I was prepared for it to be a fatal accident.There is no other explanation of how West could possibly have survived a fall that, logically, should have ended both her and her child.
Just kidding. There is no way to survive a zombie invasion.
Seriously. The smell of ammonia has been known to attract sharks, and when it comes to sharks, the best way to survive is to avoid them altogether. The Discovery Channel also advises avoiding defecating or vomiting in the ocean; if you really can't hold it, try to fling whatever comes out of your orifices as far from yourself as you can.
If you do spot an approaching shark, try to splash and yell and make as much noise as you can. Though this runs counter to my common sense, Discovery explains that if sharks perceive their prey to be extremely large or powerful, they're likely to look for easier hunting.
If a shark does attack, don't play dead. Fight back by punching the shark in the eyes or the gills (not the nose), the shark's most sensitive parts. If you're bitten, get out of the water as soon as you can and find a tourniquet.
National Geographic offers many more tips for avoiding and surviving shark attacks here.
Keep in mind, however, that the risk of dying of a shark attack is small—15 times smaller than the risk of dying from a falling coconut.
In the late 18th century, British missionary William Wyatt Gill recorded the death of a concubine to King Tetui of Mangaia, an island in the Cook Island chain, due to a falling green nut. The king immediately had the tree cut down. No further deaths due to falling nuts, green or coco, were recorded on this island.