Statistically, flying is the safest way to travel and you practically have nothing to worry about, but here’s what happens when that flies out the window. Buckle up.
Unless you’re flying every week, the miracle of modern flight tends to be an occasion for the everyday traveler, because humans were never intended to travel upwards of 600 miles per hour at an altitude that would call the peak of Mount Everest cute.
However, when that all comes literally crashing down, things get hairy in an instant, as evidenced by a documentary called The Plane Crash, which aired on the UK’s Channel 4 in 2012. It was also part of Discovery Channel’s Curiosity short documentary series here in the States.
The film aimed to answer one simple question: What really happens when a plane crashes? With modern scientific equipment, cameras and telemetry, the team of scientists and engineers loaded up “Big Flo”, an old Boeing 727 that they purchased for a bargain price of $450,000, with plans to stage a real life crash in the arid Mexico desert.
They used the aging airliner for a few reasons: it was cheap, it sported a fuselage that was similar enough to Boeing’s current 737, and it had an escape hatch at the rear of the aircraft from which the pilots and engineer used to jump to safety before the plane made its crash landing on the dry Mexican lake bed.
Yeah, people actually flew this thing before it crashed.
The 727 was then remote controlled to its final resting place (after the pilots jettisoned out) from a small single-engined prop plane that trailed in its wake.
Before the big crash was completed and revealed in the film (around the 45 minute mark in the video), the narrator explained why plane crashes generally occur, how the aftermath is sorted out by authorities, and what actual survivors did during horrific accidents on airliners. It brought a much-needed human element to what amounted to the mother of all Science Fair demonstrations.
While it was sobering and off putting to say the least, the crash itself was a spectacular tragedy—an insanely harsh reminder of how fragile these metal giants can be when given the right amounts of force in the wrong places. In the aftermath, the data was compiled and the team weighed the merits of bracing versus not bracing for impact, and the likelihood of mortality depending on seating position in the plane, as well as how mechanical components react to such extreme stresses.
Analysis concluded that although it’s generally better to brace and sit in the back of the aircraft as that’s the place of likely survivability, there have been crashes in the past where the opposite was true.
Even with the haunting imagery of carnage and destruction, I must remind you that even in a crash this gnarly, more than three quarters of the people on board would have survived. Hell, the likelihood of this actually happening is akin to you being struck by lightning twice while riding a great white shark with a winning lottery ticket in its mouth.
You’ll be fine. Probably.