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| Shapiro, Appleton, Washburn & Sharp

On September 7, 2011, a private jet carrying a Russian professional hockey team crashed shortly after takeoff, killing 43 of the 45 people on board. The plane allegedly struggled to gain altitude after takeoff and then hit a tower before crashing along the Volga River near the Russian town of Yaroslavl, northeast of Moscow. When major and tragic plane crashes like this occur, it is easy to wonder just how safe air travel is. How likely is an airplane to crash? And if it does crash, how likely is it that the crash will be fatal?

For some, flying can be a thrilling experience. But for thousands of passengers who board airplanes daily, fear and anxiety over the flight is always present. But airplane crash data tells us that we actually have little to worry about. In 2009, for example, commercial airlines logged more than 15 million hours of flight time over the course of 10 million flights and transported more than 700 million passengers. In that same year, a total of only 30 accident events reported. Ten of those incidents involved damage only to the airplane, meaning no one was injured or killed. Another 15 resulted in some serious injury to at least one passenger, but no fatalities. Only five of the incidents were classified as “major” or “serious” because they involved either at least one fatality or major damage to the aircraft.

For the average American, the annual risk of being killed in a plane crash is about 1 in 11 million. That’s miniscule compared to the risk of being involved in a motor vehicle crash, which is about 1 in 5,000. Flying, in fact, is safer than most other forms of transportation, including bicycling. There are other positive data about plane crashes: The vast majority of people — a full 95.7 percent — involved in some sort of plane accident survive. Between 1983 and 2000, a total of 53,000 people were involved in airplane accidents, and 51,000 survived.

Fear and anxiety over flying is often linked to a feeling of being out of control. But when it comes to surviving an airplane crash, there are some things you can do to take control over your safety and the likelihood of survival:

  • When you book your flight, choose a seat that is within five rows of an exit. Research and data shows that most survivors of airplane crashes had to move five rows or fewer to get off the plane
  • Read the safety information in the plane and pay attention to the safety briefing. Check to make sure you know where the safety equipment in your seat is. While this may seem strange to do, especially for frequent fliers, it can make a huge difference in the event of a crash.
  • Leave your shoes on, and wear lace-up shoes. In the event of a plane crash, you want to be able to move easily and safely, especially if there is fire or broken material on the ground.

Plane crashes like the one in Russia are rare, and the survival rate when a plane does crash is quite high. Knowing this may help alleviate anxiety over flying and encourages passengers to take the responsibility they can for air travel safety.

About the Editors: The Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.

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