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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 August 2005, 11:50 GMT 12:50 UK
Can you survive a plane crash?
By Zoe Smeaton
BBC News Magazine

Lost cast
Lost tells the story of plane crash survivors stranded a desert island
Channel 4's Lost tells a fictional tale of plane crash survivors, but in reality has anyone endured such an ordeal?

Only in drama could people who survive a plane crash be so gorgeous and conveniently placed on a South Pacific Island.

And while a UK audience watches the events unfold, many will think the basic survival principle beyond belief.

So what are the chances of emerging from the wreckage of a plane, in real life?

Fear of flying

The first air travel-related fatality occurred in 1908 when Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge was killed after the propeller blade of his aircraft broke and the pilot lost control.

Since then a fear of flying has become common, despite the infrequency of such disasters.

Fly non-stop routes - more accidents occur during the takeoff, climb, descent and landing phases of flights
Choose larger aircraft - those with more than 30 passenger seats must be certified under the strictest safety regulations
Keep your wits about you - so you can follow staff instructions in an emergency
But according to Airsafe.com, founded by Dr Todd Curtis, a former airline safety analyst with Boeing, there are steps passengers can take to increase their chances of surviving an accident.

The website advises air travellers to fly non-stop routes, choose larger aircraft and "keep your wits about you" in any emergency situation.

And comfortingly, as is so often depicted in Hollywood, life can prevail over air crash impacts, and sometimes people really do crawl out of the wreckage alive.

Flying over the Andes
A Uruguayan rugby team's plane crashed on a flight over the Andes
The 1993 film Alive tells the true story of the Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashed to the ground in the Andes Mountains in 1972. Some of the team survived not only the impact but also a further 72 days stranded in the mountain range, nursing injuries such as broken bones.

After their rescue, the survivors eventually admitted they had resorted to cannibalism in order to eat.

In 2005, a Tunisian passenger plane ended up in the sea as it was forced to make an emergency landing off the coast of Sicily. Of 39 passengers on board, at least 13 died but 23 were rescued, although many of them had serious injuries.

Even when planes explode in the air, all is not always lost.

In January 1972, 22-year-old flight attendant Vesna Vulovic's plane exploded due to a suspected terrorist bomb in the cargo section. Ms Vulovic plummeted 33,000 feet in the tail section of the plane to the snowy slopes of the Czech Republic below.

Despite serious injuries including two broken legs, Ms Vulovic survived and later said: "To this day I enjoy travelling and have no fear of flying."

Juliane Koepcke survived a plunge into the Amazon rainforest
Just weeks previously on Christmas Eve 1971, a commercial aeroplane also exploded after being struck by lightning over Peru. Again all passengers were killed with the exception of one.

This time 17-yr-old Juliane Koepcke fell two miles still strapped into her seat, coming to land in the Amazon rainforest. Rising winds had caused her to slow during the fall so that she spiralled down rather than plummeting.

Ms Koepcke then spent 11 days wandering through the jungle without food, seeking civilisation.


These two women were miraculous sole survivors of accidents in which large numbers of people perished, but in some cases accident survival rates are far higher.

We were really, really scared that the plane would blow up
Crash survivor Olivier Dubois
In a recent jet crash at Toronto airport, Canada, an Air France Airbus A340 landed too far down the runway, and in the stormy conditions skidded through airport perimeters and fell into a ravine where it burst into flames.

One French passenger, Olivier Dubois, described his ordeal: "We were really, really scared that the plane would blow up because there were lots of flames. And we were running really fast out of there."

Forty-three people suffered injuries, but all 309 people aboard survived after crew members managed to evacuate the plane within 90 seconds.

Chris Yates, a transport analyst for Jane's Information group, said that this 100% survival rate was a reflection of the "first rate" emergency operation in Toronto.

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