Aviation safety: how planes save lives

Despite the fast-moving fire inside Asiana Flight 214, hundreds escaped the crash. Credit: NTSB
Date:14 November 2013 Tags:, ,

Though it seems a miracle that all but three of 307 people aboard Asiana Flight 214 survived a July crash landing in San Francisco, the low number of deaths is the result of design improvements mandated by civil aviation authorities over the past 30 years. – By Ben Iannotta

1. Stay-put seats
Asiana Flight 214 went from flying at more than 200 km/h to a dead stop in seconds, and yet photos show that its seats stayed in place. If the seats had come loose, the passengers in them could have been killed, and those who survived the impact might have been too injured to escape the flames.

* 2 August, 1985: In a crash at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, some of those who died were ejected from the plane and struck the ground still strapped into their seats, according to the US National Transportation Safety Board. Three years later, regulations required seats to be able to withstand the force of 16 g’s.

2. Floor lighting
If the haze and dust in the Asiana cabin had been thick enough to obscure vision, passengers could still have found their way to the exits.

* 2 June, 1983: Investigators determined that some victims of the Air Canada Flight 797 fire at Greater Cincinnati International Airport failed to find the exits because of smoke, and mandated that emergency lighting be installed to guide passengers to the way out.

3. Fire Prevention
It took about 90 seconds for flight attendants to spot flames outside the Boeing 777 and decide to evacuate it. Passengers made up for lost time and got out before the fire engulfed much of the plane, whose parts are less flammable than in earlier models.

* 2 June, 1983: After the crew of Air Canada Flight 797 reported smoke in the DC-9’s aft lavatory, pilots made an emergency landing at Greater Cincinnati International Airport. Moments after the crew opened the plane’s doors, a flash fire raced through the interior of the craft, killing the 23 passengers who were still on board. To delay the onset of flash fires, new flammability standards for seat cushions and baggage compartments were introduced.