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How to survive a plane crash 101

Sept. 25, 2014, London, U.K. - They raced down the slide, one by one, like children on a playground. At the bottom, smartphone photos were snapped and high fives exchanged.


September 25, 2014
By The Associated Press

The frequent fliers were all smiling and laughing — and quietly
hoping to never use an evacuation slide again. Doing so would mean their
plane had just crashed.

 

The slide demonstration was part of a
half-day safety course that encourages passengers to be aware of their
surroundings and familiarize themselves with what happens in an
emergency. The two dozen participants learned the best way to brace for a
crash, how to open aircraft doors and why to wait until exiting a plane
to inflate life vests.

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"In this day and age, everybody is so
comfortable with flying, they get on planes and don't consider safety,"
says Andy Clubb, a safety instructor at British Airways' flight training
centre.

 

Started as a training exercise for oil
company employees who routinely flew to remote locations, the course is
now open to frequent fliers willing to pay $265, although most
participants are still sent by their companies. There are up to three
classes a week.

 

The class begins inside a Boeing 737
cabin simulator. Airplane seats are selected. Seatbelts are buckled. The
safety demonstration begins. Just like on a real flight, nobody pays
attention — and these are passengers who know there is going to be a
crash. The simulator rocks back and forth like taxiing, then tilts up
for takeoff.

 

Soon theatrical smoke
fills the cabin and the flight attendants shout "Brace. Brace. Brace."

 

Everybody's head goes down until the evacuation order is given.

 

It's a scramble to the nearest exit. Some
passengers fare better than others. Seatbelts aren't snapped off
quickly enough. One woman struggles to open the emergency exit over the
wing.

 

When the smoke clears, the group sits
back down and learns that six to eight passengers can go through the
door in the time it takes one passenger to go through the tiny over-wing
exit.

 

Seconds count. In the simulator, anyone who hesitates gets a
stern lecture. In real life, they're pushed out the door, down the slide
by a flight attendant.

 

Clubb explains that the key to survival
is getting into the proper brace position: Bend forward as far as
possible, keep your head down. Place your feet flat on the floor and
slide them back.

 

Your dominant hand goes on the back of
your head. Protect that hand by placing the other hand over it. Do not
interlock fingers. The goal is to ensure that the bones in the stronger
hand aren't broken so you can eventually unbuckle the seatbelt.

 

Will members of the class ever use the
training? Each day, 8.3 million people around the globe step aboard some
93,500 flights. They almost always land safely. In the past decade,
there have only been 138 crashes worldwide that had fatalities,
according to aviation consultancy Ascend.

 

The majority of crashes occur during takeoffs and landings and there are often survivors.

 

"The likelihood is that you are never
going to have to do it in a real life situation. But knowing now that
you could do it, just gives you a bit more confidence," says participant
Sarah Barnett, who frequently flies in her job marketing vacation
destinations. (Classes can be booked here:
http://www.britishairways.com/en-us/baft/flight-safety-awareness/courses-for-individuals)

The course also aims to give the fliers confidence in the people at the front of the plane.

 

"The two guys at the front of your
airplane are probably the most highly regulated and checked
professionals you'll find anywhere — certainly more than your doctor or
your lawyer or your accountant," says British Airways pilot Martin
Hockfield.

 

Hockfield tells the class that pilots
come in twice a year for testing. In a simulator, they practice takeoffs
with engine failures or landing after a loss of hydraulic pressure.
It's like taking a driving test every six months — in a broken car.

 

British Airways hopes the more than
15,000 people who have taken the training since 2004 can act as leaders
for others to follow in a crash. Some passengers freeze or melt down in
an emergency. If they see someone quickly, calmly and confidently
following a flight attendant's instructions to evacuate, they might do
the same.

 

The instructors share this
takeaway: All passengers should think about an emergency during the
safety demonstration. Use that time to look for the nearest exit, plus
an alternative one. Check where the life vest is and practice unbuckling
the seatbelt to build a bit of muscle memory.

 

There were other safety tidbits dispensed
that day. Red lights always signal an exit because the colour cuts
through smoke the best. Always inflate life vests outside the plane;
they can limit mobility in a tight space and if water fills the cabin,
passengers with inflated vests can be pressed up against the ceiling,
unable to swim down to the door.

 

All bits of knowledge that, if they're lucky, passengers won't ever need.

 

"Fingers crossed, this afternoon has been
a complete, utter waste of time." Clubb says. "You are at greater risk
getting in your car and driving to the airport."