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Note for the weak stomachs...

Second warning...

Ok just to note right off the bat, I'm pretty comfortable about flying, I sleep through takeoffs and landings, I'll gleefully continue doing stuff on my MacBook Pro even when things get really shaky until I protest when the flight attendants make us put our toys away, I've just been reading about plane crashes, the history of them such as the early generation DC-10s, early De Havillands, the recent De Havilland crash, and something that just constantly goes through my mind -- what exactly is the cause of death in airplane crashes? Does the body just fail under immense amounts of G-force? Break up into bits and pieces? Is it so instant pain isn't felt even for that split second? Like Flight 191 at O'Hare airport for example, did they find all the bodies? Has anyone here been in a crash or bad landing/takeoff? I'm just curious. Not really scared or anything, crashes are just so rare compared to car crashes although when a crash does occur survival chances are pretty slim. How did they figure that keeping your head between your legs is the best position to be in during a crash? Could they not equip each passenger with a parachute and eject everyone in an imminent plane crash?

Lots of questions, pick one to answer and discuss... lol.

Until then, happy flying, still by far the best way to get around... except for the fact it's about the most environmentally destructive way to get around.
 

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I was on a small jet flying from Jacksonville, Florida to Atlanta, Georgia, that was hit by lightening. We started a 2500 foot plunge until the pilot got control of the plane and took it out of the path of the thunderstorm. I did not fly for about two years after that incident, but have flown without incident since then.
 

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I'm not sure where to start answering all your questions, but I will do my best from what I know, studied and learned over the years.

I guess I will start with the question of why we need to put our heads between our knees when getting ready for crash position. Probably the worst thing that could kill you besides inhaling smoke and the heat of a fire inside the aircraft is the carry on luggage above your seats. It always scares me to see people bring on what I call mini suitcases as carry on luggage and place them in those tiny overheads. When an aircraft hits the ground hard or is shaken pretty good, those little overhead doors pop open so easily, and the carry on luggage gets thrown all over the place at forces that will kill you dead if you get hit in the head, neck or wherever. Plus, whatever else is around you that can hit you in the head. So remember the next time you travel, do you really need that heavy big carry on right above your head?

There are so many factors in aviation that we could be here all day discussing why people die in airplane crashes and why others survive, when perhaps they should have died.

Most people if they survive will feel panic set in right away, they push everyone out of their way and try to get off the airplane. They don't realise that they are injured, or missing body parts until they are off the airplane. Then they go into shock, which could kill them, or save them depending on the situation once again.

If a fire breaks out on the aircraft in mid air, if it spreads the poisonous fumes that are created are more toxic then anything I have ever experienced and they will kill you instantly. The aircraft is a tube with wheels and wings, if a fire starts, it spreads rapidly from one end to the other in minutes. This is due to the toxic chemicals that are in the material that contains the tube of the aircraft.

Parachutes? would work if we some how we could go against the laws of physics. When you're up at 30,000 feet, there is no way you will be able to open that door and jump out of the aircraft. If a 747 or smaller aircraft goes into a dive, the force, speed and air pressure would not allow you to open up the door and jump out. When you're up in the air flying such a huge aircraft, it takes only seconds for something to go wrong.

You're right, the full impact of a crash head on into a swamp or land will cause some humans to lose a few body parts, but once again, I have seen crash videos where an aircraft has broken up into 3 parts, tossed around on the runway and then have people just walk away afterwards.

There is no right answer to your questions, as each plane crash that I have studied in the past, has always been different, with different outcomes of the lives of the passengers.

What I can do is give suggestions on how each passenger can be more prepared when they do travel on any airline.

Most passengers are like yourself, get on, read, or don't listen to the safety announcements as they have been flying for so long and have heard it too many times. When I ask those passengers how many seats it is to the nearest exit, they can't answer that. Do they know how to open the emergency door or window? Once again most people don't know or care to learn. Why is this important? It is to help you escape to safety if you are able to escape safely when the time comes. Think about it, if there is a fire onboard and you can't see the nearest exit, you can at least crawl and count the number of seats or lights on the floor to the nearest exit. Every second counts, and this could save your life. If you're near an emergency exit, knowing how to open it, will not only help you, but others as well around you. I know that in most airlines today, if you sit by or beside an emergency door, you will be asked and shown how to open it, incase of an emergency.

A pet peeve of mine is people who bring on full carry on bags for an hour flight or even long flights. You can leave the kitchen sink behind or put it with the rest of the luggage. If we reduce the weight on our carry on luggage, then that could save your life, when those doors fly open and the stuff gets thrown around like in a tornado fashion.

I think preparedness and knowing where you sit and the nearest exit is, is a good start to helping yourself out. The problem is, you can't predict an airplane crash, so you do what you can in the meantime. I love to fly and I enjoy being a passenger. :)
 

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...what exactly is the cause of death in airplane crashes? Does the body just fail under immense amounts of G-force?
Not likely. The body can stand a pretty fair whack of Gs - you may pass out from G force blood pooling, but it wouldn't kill. Blunt force trauma would be the thing -- when you keep moving at 400 mph and you meet a piece of ground or airframe that is at 0 MPH. Other popular methods would be fire or anoxia from decompression at altitude. You want a choice, choose the anoxia...
How did they figure that keeping your head between your legs is the best position to be in during a crash?
Well obviously, a real crash (airframe breakup or descent into terrain) it wouldn't matter a whit if you had your head down or were doing the macarena. However the idea is to minimize injury during the descent (whether from flying luggage or whatever) and have the best chance of surviving some kind of controlled landing IF the pilots can salvage the situation. If there is fire, at that point you REALLY want to be conscious so you can attempt exit.
Could they not equip each passenger with a parachute and eject everyone in an imminent plane crash?
Oi... it takes half an hour to get people out of a plane by foot when it is parked at the gate. Can you imagine the chaos? So not workable....
Until then, happy flying, still by far the best way to get around... except for the fact it's about the most environmentally destructive way to get around.
No, cruise ship is, per passenger mile.
 

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Definitely blunt force trauma is the #1 cause of death.

But then it depends on where you crash. Drowning is one way - freezing afterwards yet another. There are many ways to go from a crash, but bft would be the main cause.
 

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didnt ya all watch MythBusters??lol
they did a mini experiment... testing the injurys from 1st class and 2nd class ya far better off with 1st class in The second class ya legs got cut off so im guessing its loss of blood and not being able to drag ya self out Most from what i have seen on Discover Ch is the smoke is the number one killer
 

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I flew millions of miles between 1970 and my last flight in 2000. I have since given up flying altogether, having had enough and will never fly again. I did enough damage to the environment and this is one way to lessen my footprint on this earth.
That being said, I did have some interesting experiences during those 31 years of flight which spanned the range of four seater float planes to jumbo jets.

I was involved in three emergency landings over those years, the first in a Western Airlines McDonnel Douglas DC-10 and the two others in our corporate planes.

I was sitting in the co-pilot’s seat of our Cheyenne twin turbo prop in 1979. We had just left Winnipeg after refuelling on our way to London, Ontario from Edmonton. On our climb to 26,000 feet, there was suddenly a loud boom and I looked out to see the right engine ablaze. Our pilot shut down the engine, used the fire extinguishers and after a few tense moments, the fire went out. We then had only one choice and that was to go down as one engine in a twin will not allow you to maintain altitude for any length of time. We put a mayday call into Winnipeg and they cleared an emergency landing for us which turned out to be uneventful.

In 1992 I took a friend with me on a flight from Edmonton to Fort McMurray in our corporate jet, a Westwind II. We flew to McMurray, parked the plane, went in to the city, conducted my business, had lunch and returned to the airport around 1:30 p.m.
The first thing I noticed was that our plane was not where we had left it. The people at the hanger explained that they had to move it to allow Syncrude’s jet out of the hanger. (Oddly enough, Syncrude’s plane was our old corporate jet we had sold them a couple of years earlier, a Citation II.)
We got aboard and taxied out on the runway and took off. From my seat, I could see the flight deck instrument panel between the two pilots and out of habit always watched the triangular set of three lights which signalled “gear up and locked” by turning from red to green. The left and right sides turned green but the top light, the nose wheel, remained red. I watched ad the pilot lowered and raised the wheels a couple of times, but the front wheel refused to go into the well and stayed red.
Turns out when the ground crew had moved the plane, they pulled a pin in the front wheel to allow it to “free wheel” and had not replaced the pin. Our pilot should have caught it in his pre-flight check, but he didn’t and blamed himself for our predicament.
To make a long story short, we had to fly at 10,000 feet max altitude to Edmonton Municipal airport where a couple of low passes confirmed by our engineer on the ground that the nose wheel was crossways. The muni would not allow an emergency landing and send us to Edmonton International, who were better equipped to assist us. We landed amid a full fleet of fire trucks and emergency vehicles, but when the nose wheel touched down, it straightened and we rolled to a stop. The pilots got out, replaced the pin, we got back on board and took off again to land at the muni five minutes later, home safe and sound. My friend and I drank a whole bottle of rum while we circled Edmonton burning off the excess fuel for about an hour.

The first time was on Western Airlines in March of 1984. I had been on a fishing trip with two friends in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and had to return home after two weeks. My buddies had an extra week and stayed on in PV.
As I watched from the terminal, over 300 passengers got off that DC-10 that day as we waited to board. When we did board for the return to Los Angeles there were only 40 souls on that aircraft, 13 of them crew. About an hour out of PV. we did a violent roll to the right which was quickly corrected by the pilot. I was siting in a left side window seat behind the wing and could see smoke and debris trailing out of the port engine. The pilot announced we had “lost” the port engine, but “these McDonnel Douglas DC-10s fly well with the remaining two engines, one on the right wing, the other high on the tail. We veered out across the Baja Peninsula over the open Pacific to dump fuel to lighten our weight and then arrived at LAX about an hour late for an emergency landing. The pilot gave us a heads up that the landing would be faster than normal and harder than normal and to be prepared for a bounce or two.
We of course were instructed by the flight attendants how to assume the position as well as taking all sharp objects out of our pockets and eyeglasses off.
We landed so hard we bent the landing gear and had to be taken off the plane with a bus type vehicle that “scissored up” to the open doorway.

In the case of the first incident, there was no time to think of anything but following directions on a controlled descent to land.

The second event was a little more nerve wracking, not knowing if that wheel would run straight or not.

The DC-10 experience was different in that there were 40 of us aboard. One thing was for sure and that was the fear on the faces of fellow passengers as here were herded to the middle of the plane and seated on each side near emergency exits. When one finds oneself in a situation over which you have no control, your thoughts turn to your loved ones and a fervent desire to survive and see them again. Anyone who says they weren’t afraid were liars.
And one final observation, there were no atheists aboard that plane moments before touchdown.
 

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I worked for British Midland Airways and was closely involved in the immediate aftermath of a crash and the subsequent follow up operations.
Some details here:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/january/8/newsid_2506000/2506665.stm

While every crash is different, death and injury are most commonly caused by smoke / fire, blunt force trauma and crushing.

In this particular crash the high survival rate was due to the lack of fire - rescue teams waded ankle deep through fuel, but there was no fire.

Most of the deaths and injuries were the result of crushing.

In these situations we developed a sketch of the aircraft seating plan and had it wall mounted in the Ops Room. Due to electronic check-in (recently introduced) we knew where each passenger was sitting. As we received reports from the rescuers and hospitals different coloured markers were placed over each seat - red for deceased and blue for rescued (assumed injured). It quickly became clear that the deaths occurred in two small areas.

As the aircraft came down it missed landing on the runway by a distressingly short distance - a runway landing would have avoided most or all of the deaths. Instead though, it came down over the embankment of a highway, breaking at two points - one just behind the forward galley and one just forward of the rear galley. At these two points there were virtually no survivors in a few rows of seats. The pattern became clear within an hour because quite a few passengers were military and therefore were identified quickly.

In some cases bodies were not recovered - merely fragments: the force of the impact was tremendous.

As an aside, in a large room next to the Ops Room the relatives and friends of passengers were awaiting news. As we passed through the room they would tug at us, asking for news. Often they would offer the names of their loved ones. Sometimes we knew that the named people were dead, but could not tell the relatives because we needed a firm notification, and then only certain officials were assigned to share the news. In those hours, and the weeks after, I grew up.

Some weeks later relatives returned to the airport to collect boxes of items belonging to the deceased. We would escort them to a private room and stay with them while they ran through the formalities. Many items were covered in blood.

One elderly gentleman came with the fiancee of his son to collect the son's things. As we walked to the room he turned to me and said "How you holding up - these past weeks must have been hellish for you"? At that point the trauma, stress and sadness was almost too much. When a person who is undergoing such deep suffering expresses concern for others then you see true dignity.
 

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I used to fly frequently for work, and had more than a few rough landings and one engine failure. I did get to the point where I simply did not think about hopping on a plane and while the statistics point to it being a safe mode of travel, this little thread reminds me that when things do go bad on a plane, they often go VERY bad...
 

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I flew millions of miles between 1970 and my last flight in 2000. I have since given up flying altogether, having had enough and will never fly again. I did enough damage to the environment and this is one way to lessen my footprint on this earth.
Great stories Sinc. Not sure if the Winnebago does much to reduce your carbon footprint :eek: ;)

Back to the question:

- The main cause of death is definitely crash trauma. Think of two Ferraris crashing head on at full speed PLUS the momentum of a few tons of aluminium and you get an idea that those seat belts are purely cosmetic...

- I'm not sure I can think of any occurrence of uncontrolled fires in the air. Most events are either fires post hard landing or real freak incidents such as the one that affected Concorde in Paris during take-off. The materials used in the cabin are of the highest flame retardant/low smoke type so I don't think you can expect to roast in mid-air. In other words the fuel can burn and engulf you, but that will not happen if the pilot has dumped most of it beforehand.

- If we now turn to de-pressurisation/loss of temperature, this is generally good news: you will faint within seconds if the oxygen masks don't drop down. This will shield you from freezing to death of having your organs pop out.

- In the case of bombs, again, "if you can hear it, you're probably safe". So it's instant death or a small puncture in the plane's fabric, in which case you might experience one of the scenarios above.

In summary: death in a plane is instantaneous and/or painless. What cannot be controlled is what happens just before. I'd rather be blown up by a terrorist than lose a brace of engines and then have 20 minutes to contemplate my destiny...
 

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I'm not sure I can think of any occurrence of uncontrolled fires in the air.
I think these were more common in the early days of aviation. The only recent one that comes to mind is the SAA Helderberg flight. It was a Combo aircraft and some cargo seems to have caught fire. Must have been horrible.
http://www.aircraft.co.za/Timeline/1980/1990/11.php
 

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Discovery Channel has a couple of documentary shows which review historic crashes and disasters. One of them is called "Mayday". I think that one is mostly about plane crashes, hijackings, plane malfunctions/design flaws, etc. The others are "Blueprint for Disaster" which is about natural disasters, train crashes, and other disasters, "Seconds from Disaster" about plane, train, sub, infrastructure and other disasters.

All of them typically show what happened and analyze why it happened and what could have been done to prevent it.

Mayday (TV series) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Seconds From Disaster - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Blueprint for Disaster (TV series) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
 

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Fires on an aircraft can happen anytime and anywhere. This does not limit the fire to just aviation fuel burning. Swiss Air crash that went down on the east coast a few years back, had a fire in the cockpit, the smoke was very heavy. There have been many reported cases with fires in the cockpit. The last one I know of was on a JetsGo aircraft who just took off out of Pearson (JetsGo, in the last year of business) had a small fire in the cockpit, they had to make an emergency landing and had first priority for landing back into Pearson. All other flights were on standby until that aircraft had landed safely back and was escorted to a safe area via the airport fire rescue team.

I'm not saying that the chances are high for in air fires, but it can and has happened. Usually in most cases they happen after a crash on the ground, or something terrible goes wrong. I also can remember a day at Pearson where a Air Canada aircraft had a fire on one of the engines upon start up. Once again aircraft parked at gate with passengers onboard, had to be evacuated and fire rescue was called in to put the fire out.

Like I said, after investigating hundreds and hundreds of aircraft accidents and incidents, you would be surprised as to how humans react, survive or don't survive in some cases. It truly is puzzling at times, just when you think they all should have died, you see more than half of them walking around and not injured.
 
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