Entries in Crashes (4)


Where to Sit to Survive a Plane Crash

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images(SAN FRANCISCO) -- The harrowing Asiana Airlines crash at San Francisco International Airport may incite fear in the minds of the millions of Americans who take to the skies every year, but it also proves that even horrific disasters are survivable.

The San Francisco-bound flight was carrying more than 300 people Saturday when crashed on the runway, tore its tail and burst into flames.

Two 16-year-old female students from China were killed, and 181 people were injured in the crash. The injured were being cared for at several hospitals, and at least 22 were in critical condition.

While only one in 1.2 million flights end up in an accident, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, there are still precautions passengers can take to prepare for emergency situations.

Experts say where you sit on a plane may prove to be the difference between life and death in a crash.
Professor Ed Galea of the University of Greenwich, who has spent more than 25 years analyzing how humans react in emergencies, advised that the seconds before impact are the most dangerous.

"You are responsible for your life," Galea said. "If you know what you're doing, you've got a better chance of surviving."

One flying rule of thumb? Sit as close to an exit as possible.

Galea studied the seating charts of more than 100 plane crashes and interviewed dozens of survivors. He uncovered that survivors move an average of five rows before safely exiting a burning plane. He also found seats in the rear of a plane were generally safer, as were aisle seats.

The survival rate in U.S. plane crashes from 1983 to 2000 was 95 percent, according to the NTSB. But if the plan does crash, it's important to remember to not panic.

"If you haven't thought about what you might do and prepared, the thing becomes overwhelming and you shut down," Galea said. "You can prepare yourself to react appropriately in emergency situations."

Airborne travelers may also want to remember to take time to brace upon impact.

In an ambitious test undertaken in the name of airline safety, a test crash of a Boeing 727 in the Sonoran Desert last year found that bracing for impact increased a passenger's likelihood of surviving a crash.

Discovery TV had a Boeing 727 equipped with more than a half a million dollars worth of crash test dummies, 38 specialized cameras and sensors, and a crew of incredibly daring pilots. The pilots, who'd donned parachutes, bailed out of a hatch in the back of the aircraft minutes before the huge jetliner careered into the ground in a horrific crash that tore the plane apart.

During the crash, which was a belly flop done nose first, passengers near the front bore the brunt of the impact. Rows one through seven held the "fatal" seats -- seat 7A was catapulted straight out of the plane.

The crash was staged as part of the Discovery Channel's Curiousity Plane Crash, a result of four years of planning and consultations to better understand what happens to passengers when an aircraft goes down.

The test crash also revealed other aspects of plane crashes, such as the tremendous amount of debris that could prove deadly to any passenger sitting upright, and how important it was to be able to get out of the plane fast. Generally, sitting within five rows of an exit gave passengers the best odds.

In addition, remembering a simple mathematic formula -- plus three, minus eight -- can boost your survivability factor in the case of an unexpected plane crash.

Most accidents happen within the first three minutes of takeoff or in the eight minutes before landing, according to Ben Sherwood, author of "The Survivors Club -- The Secrets and Science That could Save Your Life" and president of ABC News.

Sherwood said 80 percent of all plane crashes occur during these 11 in-flight minutes. Instead of picking up a magazine or taking your shoes off, it's important to remain alert.

Sherwood advised to have a plan of action in the case of an unexpected crisis.

"If a plane crashes it's very likely that I'm going to survive it, and if I do the right thing, if I pay attention, if I have a plan, if I act, the chances are even better," Sherwood said.

But passengers should remember that not all flights are bound for peril.

The aviation industry has taken strides to protect passengers in emergency situations. Stronger seats, improved flame retardant plane parts and better firefighting techniques following a crash have contributed to increasing the time for passengers to make a safe escape.

"Riding on a commercial airplane has got about the same amount of risk as riding on an escalator," MIT International Center for Air Transportation Director John Hansman Jr. told ABC News.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Three Lives Lost in Air Ambulance Crash Revives Safety Debate

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A pilot and two flight nurses on their way to pick up a patient who needed medical help never made it, after the emergency medical helicopter they were flying on went down in a corn field in Illinois, killing all three on board and raising new questions about the safety of the flights.

According to local press accounts, the pilot was just shy of retirement, and one of the nurses on board leaves behind two children. The chopper crashed about 8:30 p.m. Monday near Rochelle, Ill., some 90 miles west of Chicago.

The life flight helicopter, owned by Rockford Memorial Hospital, had been dispatched to another hospital an hour’s drive away to transport a patient back to Rockford.

A farmer who lives nearby told ABC News’ Chicago station WLS-TV that he heard a terrifying noise.

“All of the sudden I seen a red light come out of the sky, and (it) nose dove right into the ground out here,” said Michael Bernardin.

He and his wife got in their pickup and began looking for the crash site. Those on board have been identified as pilot Andy Olesen, and flight nurses Jim Dillow and Karen Hollis.

The Rockford Register Star newspaper reported that the 65-year-old Olesen, who’d been a life flight pilot for nearly 19 years, had planned to retire next week.

Both Dillow and Hollis had worked as flight nurses for more than a decade. According to the Register Star, Hollis was the mother of two daughters, ages 12 and 14.

In a statement, Rockford Health Systems said, “Our hearts are heavy. We grieve the loss of three heroes who dedicated their career to serving others.”

The National Transportation Safety Board, which has long been concerned about air ambulance safety, is investigating the accident. Investigators will take a close look at the weather at the time of the crash.

The hospital said the pilot had radioed that that weather was bad, and he was turning around. That was the last contact with those on board.

Emergency helicopter flights are risky operations, often operating at night and in poor weather. In 2008, there was a rash of accidents: 12 crashes and 29 fatalities, the worst year on record. The NTSB found that there was pressure on the industry to operate the flights quickly, in all kinds of conditions.

It can be a lucrative business, and in some cases there was fierce competition among companies to pick up patients. In other instances, patients who were not critically ill and could have been transported safely by ground were instead loaded onto air ambulances.

In 2009, the NTSB issued 19 recommendations to improve safety. Those recommendations are still awaiting final action by the Federal Aviation Administration, which proposed tougher safety standards two years ago, but has still not enacted them.

The NTSB recommendations called for everything from better weather information for pilots, to better training for flying in harsh conditions, to risk evaluations before every flight.

An NTSB official told ABC News Tuesday that there have been “significant safety problems” in the past, and these operations remain a concern of the safety board.

This latest tragedy is the first deadly helicopter life flight crash in more than a year. The previous accident, in August 2011 in Missouri, killed three crew members and a patient. Both of these accidents involved EMS helicopters operated by Air Methods, a company that flies out of 300 locations in 48 states.

On its website, Air Methods says it takes safety very seriously, and has spent more than $100 million on safety measure in the past six years. Company Vice President Craig Yale told ABC News that it “mourns the loss of the crew, and has the family in our prayers.”

Yale said that Air Methods is the largest air medical operator in the country, and flies more hours than any other air ambulance company, about 150,000 hours a year.

Yale said “one accident is too many," but that the company’s accident rate is about half the national average.

The industry trade group the Association of Air Medical Services says its members have voluntarily made some significant improvements in safety.

“We are working to implement a culture of safety throughout the industry,” AAMS President and CEO Rick Sherlock told ABC News.

The group says there are more than 900 MedEvac helicopters operating in the United States, transporting approximately 400,000 patients a year.

As one measure of the safety improvement, Sherlock pointed out that 90 percent of the operators now have night vision goggles to help the pilot navigate in darkness. The industry is also moving toward onboard terrain avoidance systems, but Sherlock could not say how many of the EMS helicopters are already outfitted with this equipment.

The NTSB agrees that there has been “some progress” on safety, but says any progress won’t be universal until required by the FAA.

The patient who was supposed to be transported on the helicopter Monday night was instead taken by ground ambulance. His condition is unknown.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


School Bus Crashes Raise Concerns About Seat Belts and Safety

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Two recent school bus accidents, one in Indiana and the other in Washington state, have left one student and a bus driver dead, and scores of students injured, raising new concerns about school bus safety.

In Indianapolis, a bus carrying 50 students, ages 5 to 16, to the Lighthouse Charter School ran into a concrete bridge abutment. The 60-year-old driver of the bus was killed, as was five-year-old student Donasty Smith. Two other students were critically injured.

The bus was badly mangled, and although some children were able to scramble off the bus with the help of others, four passengers had to be freed by the fire department.

According to ABC News sources it appears preliminarily that the school bus driver either was distracted or had a heart attack while behind the wheel. He appears to have hit the overpass without braking, sources said. Investigators will not be able to rule out a heart attack until an autopsy is performed.

In the other accident, in Quincy, Wash., the school bus rolled over, apparently after it veered off the road and the driver overcorrected. There were 38 students on board. One was critically injured and remains in the hospital. Three were seriously injured and have been treated and released. The bus driver also remains hospitalized.

The accident, about 120 miles east of Seattle, occurred on a rural bus route. The bus picks up students of all ages, from kindergarten to high school. Initial reports are that alcohol, drugs and the weather, were not factors in the accident.

Neither of the buses was equipped with passenger seat belts, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does not require in larger school buses. NHTSA and school bus manufacturers say the buses are safe because of their size, and what’s called “compartmentalization.” Buses are designed to hold students in place with the help of narrow widths between seats and high seatbacks.

“We feel strongly that school buses continue to be the safest way to transport students,” NHTSA spokesman Lynda Tran told ABC News. “They are even safer than their parents’ cars.”

The government points to statistics that underscore the safety of school buses, which transport 23 million children a day. According to the NHTSA, about 800 school-aged children are killed in motor vehicle accidents during normal school travel hours each year. Only about 20 of those deaths are school-bus related -- an average of five school bus passengers and 15 pedestrians, often students hit inadvertently by the school bus, according to the NHTSA statistics.

But the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly disagrees that seat belts aren’t necessary on school buses. It wants all new buses equipped with lap/shoulder belts to “ensure the safest possible ride," according to Dr. Phyllis Agran, a pediatrician.

Agran said that according to her research, approximately 17,000 children are treated in emergency rooms annually, having been injured in school buses, with 42 percent of those injuries involving crashes.

School buses are “a dinosaur with respect to occupant protection,” she said. Compartmentalization was a safety concept from the 1960s, before there were mandatory requirements for lap/shoulder belts in motor vehicles, she said. Seat belts in school buses “should be a no-brainer by the year 2012,” she said.

The government strengthened its compartmentalization rule in 2009 to require higher seatbacks in new buses, for even greater protection. As for whether larger buses are equipped with seat belts, that decision has been left up to the states and individual school districts.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Women Drivers at Greater Risk in Car Crashes, Says Study

Hemera/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A new report by the American Journal of Public Health finds that female drivers are at a greater risk of injury or death when involved in car crashes, because seat belts and other life-saving devices installed in cars are not designed for their bodies.

The report said that on average, women are shorter, lighter, tend to sit in different positions and drive newer passenger cars when compared with men. Because of these factors, the odds of a woman sustaining an injury while wearing a seat belt were 47 percent higher than for men wearing seatbelts.

One reason safety systems are designed more for the male population is that men are three times more likely to be involved in a car crash that leads to serious or fatal injuries. In recent years, however, there has been an increase in female drivers getting into these types of accidents.

Although Clarence Ditlow of the Center for Auto Safety says that the study had the right concept, it doesn’t apply to today’s vehicles. The researchers focused on crashes (and cars) between 1998 and 2008. All of the cars used in the study were an average of six years old.

“The average life of a car is around 12 years,” said Ditlow. “The study would have a lot more value if it were limited to 2000 and later model year vehicles to make sure all vehicles had female friendly airbags,” he said. Since new 2012 models are coming out now, some of the cars used in the study are almost 20 years old.

“There wasn’t even a dynamic side impact test standard in effect in 1992,” said Ditlow.

Ditlow also said that while the study did highlight the disparity between the risks for male and female drivers, that’s something the government and industry have been working on over the past three decades.

The authors of the study said in a statement that “female motor vehicle drivers today may not be as safe as their male counterparts; therefore, the relative higher vulnerability of female drivers…when exposed to moderate and serious crashes must be taken into account.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

ABC News Radio